INTERVIEW: Sheriff’s Office Explains 20-year Gap Between Death, Arrest for Murder

“We think there was a mistake made”

“Basically, how this came out was that two of the investigators viewed the evidence, and basically at our briefings that we do twice a year and said ‘why don’t we bring this back to the medical examiner and see what they think, beause we think there was a mistake made, so we basically want to put a fresh set of eyes on it.”


When the deputies brought back the evidence to the District One Medical Examiner’s Office – the office changed their opinion about how the child’s death took place. The new analysis and what Major Allen said were “new interviews” freed the sheriff’s office to arrest Liza for murder.

“It was ruled a homicide back then”

According to Okaloosa County Sheriff’s records, the Medical Examiner ruled the death of the child in 2002 a homicide – but no arrests were made. 


“These cases sometimes come down to very minute detail,” Major Allen Explained. He added that the change in the Medical Examiners’  ruling of the cause of death allowed the Sheriff’s Office to make the arrest for the killing. “They weren’t able to determine that back in 2002,” Allen said, “There was a difference of opinion with the medical examiner on the timing of the death.”

I think the number one question Mid Bay News got in the last week had to do with the length of time, 20 years, between the death of Mary Jean Liza’s daughter in 2002 – and her arrest in December 2022. 


It’s the story of the difference of opinion and persistence that lead to the December 6th arrest of Liza for the murder of her daughter almost 20 years to the day prior. 


“[Liza] was probably pretty surprised when we showed up to pick her up,” said Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Deputy Major David Allen. 


Most people who are charged with a murder – especially a cold case – would have good reason to believe they would never be charged. FBI statistics show that over a third of murders never get ‘cleared’ by law enforcement. Clearing a case means law enforcement arrested and charged someone with a crime and those charges were turned over to the court for prosecution. 

“We’re Doing This on Every Case”

The Arrest of Mary Jane Liza in a cold case is not the only instance of combing through old files and making new arrests. According to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office – deputies made four arrests for cold-case homicides in 2022 alone. One of those arrests was for a murder which took place in Okaloosa County in the 1980s. A fresh set of eyes, new technology and new methods of evidence-gathering have played a role in the Sheriff’s Office attempts to bring all murderers to justice. “We are trying to treat [these] cases as if they are our family members,” Allen added.

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