Molly Morton waited nearly two years to see someone charged with killing her 1-year-old son. Gary Grant Sr. is still waiting for the same thing — nearly three decades later.
A lack of justice fueled by a tangible fear that no one would be held responsible for their sons’ deaths sent both parents to the Internet so they could focus more attention on the cases. Their forays online also allowed Morton and Grant a way to take control of the tragedies.
After 21 months — nearly nine months longer than her son lived — Morton found some satisfaction this month when the man she holds responsible for her son’s death was arrested and charged with aggravated manslaughter.
Her son, Cory Sechtin, was at his baby sitter’s Egg Harbor Township home when he “fell funny” Sept. 5, 2010, and had to be rushed to the hospital, she said the sitter’s husband, Larry Atwell, told her.
But when Cory died three days later, the cause of death was “shaken baby syndrome.” Four months later, Morton learned that Cory’s death had been ruled a homicide, but she didn’t discover that until she read a story in The Press of Atlantic City.
Another year went by, and no one was charged.
In February, she started the “Justice for Cory Sechtin” Facebook page, which asked: “Please help by writing to the politicians in New Jersey!!!”
On June 28, Atwell was indicted. Two weeks later, he turned himself in, having learned of the indictment — his attorney said — by reading The Press’ story about it online.
Gary Grant Sr. was still a police officer in Atlantic City when his 7-year-old son, Gary Jr., was found bludgeoned to death near a warehouse in the Ducktown section of the city Jan. 14, 1984. An 11-year-old admitted to the killing, but the confession was thrown out after it allegedly violated the boy’s rights.
Grant Sr., long retired and living in Puerto Rico, started a Facebook page in 2009. While it received a lot of attention, it didn’t lead to a reopening of the case.
Grant said he couldn’t even get then-Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel — whom he had worked with on cases years ago — to answer several calls and emails.
So he began an online petition in hopes the signatures would be enough to reopen the case. While the petition is going forward, Housel has resigned. Jim McClain — nominated by the governor to replace Housel — is acting prosecutor while he awaits a confirmation hearing.
While McClain couldn’t speak for Housel, he said his philosophy is that, if a family member calls about a case, that warrants at least opening up the file and going over it with them.
“There’s no such thing in this office as a stamp that marks the case as forever unsolved,” he said. “Any unsolved homicide case is never closed.”
In fact, he said, a tradition in the office was to give a new investigator an old case to look into when there was some down time. The problem now, McClain said, is there is no down time. And a lot of focus is being given to more recent cases, which have a better chance of getting solved.
Grant said there have always been problems as cases get older.
“Even in 1986, I found (Gary Jr.’s) case in a closet underneath a whole bunch of office supplies,” he said. “I was furious. And we’re talking about just two years after Gary was murdered. They just threw it in a closet and left it there.”
That isn’t the way old cases are treated. At least not now, McClain said.
But the passage of time does lessen the chances of anyone ever being brought to justice, he admitted.
“That doesn’t mean we close it,” said McClain, who encourages families to keep in contact with his office, no matter how old the case. “Staying in touch is a way for a case to get energized again.”
And those keeping it alive through the Internet may even find a new piece of evidence or a witness.
The family of Raul Suarez started a Facebook page in hope of solving his 27-year-old homicide.
Best known as “Cooks Books,” the local television host and cabdriver was found stabbed to death March 31, 1985, on Route 30 in Absecon.
“Someone knows who killed him,” his nephew Mario Suarez wrote on the CooksBooks Suarez Facebook page. “Cash paid if your tip leads to an indictment. Do it for the REWARD, do it to help the family, do it to clear your conscience or just do it for Cooks Books.”
As with cases old and new, people need to speak up, McClain said.
“People need to appreciate the fact that any piece of information not contained in a file is valuable,” he said.
Grant’s and Suarez’s families just want to see today’s advancements used to help solve yesterday’s cases.
“At that time, we didn’t have the DNA that we have now,” Grant said. “Technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today. They’re solving cases and people are getting out of jail as a result of that. Why can’t they put someone in jail as a result of that?”
Grant said he will keep pushing — and posting — until something is done.
“If anybody wants to contact this office to get us to take another look at a case, that’s part of what we do,” McClain said. “There doesn’t need to be hundreds of thousands of people signing a petition.”
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