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Little Rock detectives hopeful new DNA tech could help solve 2003 case

Carlton Daniel was killed in early November of 2003 in Little Rock. After all this time, his family still doesn't know who's responsible.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark — In 2022, Little Rock police say they have already responded to 10 homicides. 

But even as police work to solve those cases, not all investigations lead to justice.

That's where LRPD's cold case detectives come in-- looking at every unsolved case they can-- some decades old.

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They still want to know who killed Carlton Daniel nearly 20 years ago.

It was a chilly night in early November 2003. Carlton Daniel just spent the day with family in Little Rock before heading back to his Mabelvale apartment. He was a 21-year-old with time still in front of him.

Detective Allen Quattlebaum with Little Rock Police Major Crimes said Daniel "planned on starting a new job in the near future. He talked with his father about that."

But nearly 20 years ago, as that Friday night became Saturday, at 3 a.m., a 911 call came through for 6510 Mabelvale. Callers saying someone saw a body in the parking lot-- and it was Carlton's.

Once on scene, first responders cut through his blue coveralls, but couldn't get a pulse. This would leave detectives to rule it a homicide.

Detective Quattlebaum said Carlton was killed with a gunshot wound, adding, "He was shot in the head."

But the investigation came up short, and in the 18 years since, not much has changed.

Within the cold case unit, Detective Quattlebaum now looks over the old evidence with a fine tooth comb.

"The first 48 hours is really, really, really necessary to get everything done that you can because you start to lose witnesses. Either they leave, they don't want to get involved, or they start to forget your evidence," he said.

Joining the unit just three months ago, Quattlebaum brings fresh eyes to unsolved cases.

"Mr. Daniel, you know, he wasn't an angel or anything like that. So he had dabbled into some drugs… and just some money problems. I think maybe in the southwest part of town where he lived with some people, nothing that we can prove," he added.

But with possible leads in mind, why did Carlton's case go cold?

Detective Quattlebaum adding, "A lot of people have speculation about why he was killed, but nothing concrete that we can go to the prosecutor with."

And detectives say few people came forward at the time, leaving Carlton's case on filing room shelves.

But we wanted to know why it was taking so long, to which Quattlebaum said, "That, I don't know. I mean this case sat for a while, I'm sure. You know, we've had a multitude of homicides since this one, got the homicide crew busy, I'm sure."

So, we look over the facts. 

The scene? A dark parking lot; a site that makes up nearly 15% of all Little Rock homicides over the last five years.

The location? On the southwest side of the city.

A lead? Drug-involved.

A young life, lost.

And still a family, who nearly 20 years later, still waits for answers.

RELATED: Arkansas student killed helping group with car trouble still unsolved 9 years later

"We don't like to classify it as just another homicide, or just another killing, you know. We try to take each case at face value, work as hard as we can on it, get some justice for the perpetrator, and also get some closure for the family," Detective Quattlebaum said.

It's been a decade since officers say they last had a tip, leaving detectives to hope that time can now be on their side.

"Sometimes in a case, you'll see that witnesses are hesitant to come forward out of fear of retaliation or something like that. This case is one of those," Quattlebaum said. "It's got some time behind it. So hopefully, there's a little more openness to talk."

This makes new witness interviews a possibility for officers.

The cold case unit is also hoping for a breakthrough with another new lead-- one that wasn't possible to follow in 2003.

"There are new DNA processes coming out that we've used with a couple of other cases that we're pretty hopeful on," he explained.

Now, Detective Quattlebaum says officers are possibly just months away from finding clues on Carlton's blue coveralls. 

"So if there was any kind of a struggle or any kind of close contact with a suspect, hopefully there's DNA, maybe on the clothing," he said.

A process that can help, not just Carlton's case, but dozens of others shuffling between filing shelves as well.

"We never close a homicide case where there hasn't been any kind of an arrest made... I'm certain that someone knows something," Quattlebaum added.

Viewing this not just as another case— but Carlton's case.

"You have to keep in mind that the deceased person is part of a family… And they have a family that relies on the system, the justice system, to bring them some closure. And so that's what we're trying to do," he said.

If you have any information on Carlton's case, LRPD asks that you call them. You can remain anonymous.

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