Andrew Garland made his first appearance in a Mays Landing courtroom Monday afternoon on charges he killed a man in Atlantic City — more than three years after the crime.

Garland, 24, was not officially tied to the death until earlier this month, even though Shaddiy Dixon, 20, died from multiple gunshot wounds Aug. 3, 2009, during a block party attended by hundreds of people in a lot on the 1300 block of Adriatic Avenue.

“I think this illustrates that we simply do not put these matters on a shelf and walk away from them,” acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said. “We continue to work these matters, we continue to take in information, we continue to talk to people.”

Defense attorney Darrin Lord said he does not know what evidence the state has allegedly tying his client to the years-old crime — or why it would have taken so long to charge him.

“My client is innocent, same as he was 3½ years ago,” Lord said outside the courtroom Monday.

Prior to Garland’s first appearance before Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Michael Donio on Monday, Lord filed for a probable-cause hearing that would give some insight into the state’s case.

That might also show what new — or long worked on — evidence investigators found that caused McClain to authorize an arrest warrant on murder and weapons offenses Jan. 9 — almost three years and four months after the killing.

History shows that, if an Atlantic County homicide is going to be solved, it usually happens within a month of the crime. However, there have been several cases that did not see an arrest — or even charges — until months or even years later.

The year 2010 ended with Atlantic County having the worst homicide solve rate of any county in the state. Just six of that year’s 21 killings were considered solved by January 2011, or less than 29 percent. And three of those were part of a murder-suicide.

But less than two years later, suspects had been charged and arrested in four more case, bringing the solve rate to almost 48 percent.

Sometimes, a small piece of evidence can be the clue to break a case.

After Gerardina Garcia, 43, was found shot to death April 20, 2006, outside her Egg Harbor Township home — her then-8-year-old son still clutching the bloody cell phone she had handed him after calling 911 — it seemed there would not be an arrest.

Nearly 20 months later, her husband and four others were arrested in the killing. Eventually, charges against widower Fabio Garcia were quietly dropped, but his daughter from a previous marriage and three men would later plead guilty to the crime. Fabio Garcia is also behind bars, serving a federal sentence for running a drug cartel out of the home on Scarborough Drive.

A cigarette butt and a shell casing found inside the van left abandoned — and carefully wiped of fingerprints — wound up breaking the case, now-retired First Assistant Prosecutor Murray Talasnik explained in a Press of Atlantic City article printed after the case was settled.

“We don’t broadcast new evidence in all these cases when the evidence comes in,” McClain said. “That’s not productive for what we do. Instead, we get a new piece of information, and we use that to develop more information and, hopefully, develop enough information to make an arrest.”

Next month, Kory McClary will be in court for a final hearing before a possible double murder trial.

He is accused in the June 22, 2008, fatal shootings of Phillip Fano, 19, of Hammonton, and Michael Nelson, 16, of Atlantic City, who were gunned down while working on a car in a driveway on North Ohio Avenue in Atlantic City’s Westside.

But McClary wasn’t charged in the crimes until May 21, 2010 — 23 months later — when the warrant was served to him in a jail cell in Chilton County, Ala., where he had been arrested for an unrelated crime.

The solving of such cases may give hope to others who are still waiting for justice.

Since popular local radio host and veterans advocate April Kauffman, 47, was found shot to death inside her Linwood home last May, supporters have been outspoken about the lack of an arrest — or even any new public information — in the case.

Garland’s arrest “demonstrates the fact that we do not give up on any of these matters,” McClain said.

But, as defense attorneys will warn, a charge in a case doesn’t always mean there will be a conviction.

In Cape May County, George Carty III was arrested Dec. 18, 2007, more than 25 years after John Attenborough, 57, was found fatally beaten in Lower Township.

Three years after the arrest, Carty was freed after it was ruled that a statement he gave investigators was inadmissible. Carty steadfastly maintained his innocence, and the state Supreme Court declined to hear a state appeal.

Meanwhile, Lord will mount a defense for Garland. A hearing is set for Feb. 14, in an attempt to lower the current $1 million cash bail currently holding Garland in the Atlantic County Justice Facility.

Lord first represented Garland in a theft case that originated in 2006.

The defendant was accepted into pretrial intervention for that April 20, 2009. PTI allows defendants who meet certain criteria to avoid trial and possible incarceration by completing a program.

Garland successfully completed his program Jan. 16, 2010, courthouse records show.

But, according to the current charges, while in the program, he killed Dixon.

Three other young men were wounded in the shooting that killed Dixon. Garland has not been charged in those crimes, although a wanted flier circulated among law enforcement — and obtained by The Press — indicated one gun was used in all four shootings. That gun has not been recovered, the flier said.

McClain would not comment on whether Garland could face charges for the other shootings.

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