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Investigating a killing when the victim is a friend

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  • Campus Crime Club learns about managing cases that make news
  • Former police chief relates investigation into colleague's slaying
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By Danielle Zayas
Special to CNN
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Times are tough right now. Gas prices are high, work is slow and the rent is due. But some things matter more in life than waiting tables part-time for tips.

Danielle Zayas examines a replica of Chandra Levy's skeletal remains. Her class is studying the case.

We had a special Campus Crime Club event, and I was not going to miss the opportunity to spend some time with a major figure in police management. I will work a double shift later.

Meeting retired DeKalb County Police Chief Eddie Moody was inspiring. He was sweet and kind as he talked about his slain friend and colleague, Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown.

Moody came to our classroom at Bauder College as part of our yearlong investigation of two famous cold cases. We research the cases to learn investigative techniques. CNN.com has been following our progress.

He was decisive and clear when he talked about the investigation of Brown's 2000 assassination and the team of officers who looked into the case of a public figure gunned down outside his own home.

What a lesson to learn -- to put your feelings aside and do what you have to do. I cannot imagine grieving the loss of a friend while having to work on his murder investigation at the same time. Find out more about Danielle Zayas »

Moody gave all of us a sense of pride in the work and made it clear it is important, that the families appreciate it and that it must continue.

Hearing Chief Moody speak about his experience supervising a high-profile case gave us an opportunity to better understand what's involved in publicized cases like the ones we're studying -- the Chandra Levy slaying and Natalee Holloway's disappearance.

Moody explained the importance of building a team. Each case is different and should be treated as such, and it's important to make sure to use each team member to his or her full potential. You need the best team, and the only way to get that team is to have the best person doing each job. Making sure that you have the most qualified people should not limit you to your own department. The FBI, Homeland Security and other local law enforcement should be able to come together to solve the case.

In my eyes, it shouldn't matter whose case it is, but rather how we are going to solve it. Resources are also very important, as is having "free hands." This is basically the ability to do what is necessary without having to ask permission. Officers need to know they don't have to wait for permission to contact someone or get information. Time is of the essence, and the information becomes more difficult to find as more time goes by.

Moody said that in the publicized case he was involved in, "about 93 percent of the information received was bad." That is a lot! The details of how his officers weeded through all that information was overwhelming. I couldn't imagine how those officers felt.

In the cold-case work that we do, we find a lot of dead ends too. After a while, you start to wonder when you are going to find that missing piece. These officers went through every lead, no matter how small. What is important to understand is that every piece of information, no matter how minute, is valuable. They are all brought together in the end to tell a story. One missing piece can change the whole story.

Moody explained the different things you look at when investigating a suspect. The first is looking into financial records. By determining the source of a person's income, you can determine what they do with it. You can also see how they get their money.

"You always follow the money," Moody said.

The second is looking at the person's family habits. How they interact, what kind of person they are and how a suspect might have grown up are all key factors when determining who is a "good" suspect. Also, especially with male suspects, it is important to speak with people he had relationships with in the past. Men have a tendency to say things to their significant other that they may not normally tell anyone else.

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"Pillow talk has busted many a man," Moody said.

Moody also told us he agreed with our plan of action for releasing our theories of the Levy and Holloway cases to law enforcement. We all felt his endorsement of our results gave us solid footing to move forward.

All About Criminal InvestigationsNatalee HollowayChandra Levy

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