Of the 14 homicides in Lexington in 2012, one case remained unsolved at year's end: that of a young father who worked at a popular local restaurant.
Homicide detectives had not made an arrest or otherwise closed the investigation of the death of Brian Lee Hodge, 31, who was shot on Dakota Street on Aug. 12. Hodge, who had a 2-year-old son, worked at Indi's Fast Food on North Broadway.
"There were a number of people out on that evening," said Lexington police Lt. Wallace Hays, who supervises the Robbery Homicide Unit. "There was some kind of gathering ... an argument ensued, several shots were heard and the victim in this case sustained numerous gunshot wounds."
Many people were nearby, but no one told police they witnessed the shooting, and no one provided the information police needed to identify a suspect. Hays said he hoped someone would come forward soon.
Public assistance "is very crucial in this case," he said. "Somebody heard or saw something. They may not think it was important, what they heard or saw, but ... that might be the information we need to get a break in this case."
Hodge's death was an anomaly in a year that saw fewer homicides than usual. In a matter of days or weeks, most were "cleared" by police, meaning an arrest was made or police ruled the killing justified, according to police data released through a Herald-Leader open-records request.
The data show, among other things, that most of the homicides in Lexington involved guns. There were 11 deaths caused by gunshot wounds, two stabbings and one beating.
Only two of the victims were women — Natalie Liles, 30, and Sharon Cave-Howard, 54. Two others, Chaz Black and Jaleel Rag lin, were 16-year-old boys, both born in October 1995.
The average age of the victims was 33.
Eleven of the 14 homicide cases resulted in arrests, and two homicides were "justified" or cases of self-defense. Justified cases fall under the umbrella of the Castle Doctrine, a state law that grants citizens the right to protect themselves with deadly force. In both self-defense cases, the person killed was trying to break into the defendant's home, Hays said.
Lexington police typically clear more than 90 percent of homicide cases each year, but in 2010 and 2011 an unusually large number of cases were unsolved. Hays attributed 2012's 93 percent clearance rate to the hard work of detectives and residents who provided them with information.
In a year when mass killings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., dominated national news coverage, none of Lexington's homicides appeared to be random; the victims almost always knew their killers, police said.
The cases were fueled by robberies, drugs and domestic disputes that stemmed from jealousy and fits of rage, according to court documents.
"I think Lexington is a very safe city," Hays said. "I perceive it as that and I think the public views it as well."
It is "out of the ordinary" to have a random killing, he said.
As in previous years, Lexington had far fewer homicides than the nearest metropolitan cities. There were 62 in Louisville and 52 in Cincinnati, according to data released by police departments there.
Lexington, which had a population of 295,803 in 2010, also had fewer homicides than cities that are closer in population. There were 16 homicides in Corpus Christi, Texas — population 305,215.
Police in Toledo, Ohio, which has a population of 287,208, investigated 36 homicides, Sgt. Joe Heffernan said.
"That's not counting two police shootings that we had, and we're not counting a homicide in a state prison, which was handled by state authorities," he said. "The University of Toledo (police department) is also investigating a situation where one of their students was stabbed ... on campus by another student."
Almost all of the Lexington cases that resulted in arrests were pending in Fayette Circuit Court at the start of 2013. Just one defendant, Gambino August, had been convicted. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter in May and was sentenced to seven years in prison for shooting Liles on Jan. 1, 2012, while the two were fighting.
In 2012, Hays noted, Lexington police also closed out a case that had gone unsolved for two years, charging two men with murder in the death of Rocardo Cole, 29, who was gunned down outside a strip club in December 2010.
Hayes said police were actively investigating Hodge's death as well as all unsolved cases from recent years. A homicide isn't considered a cold case in Lexington until leads and evidence stop coming in, and even then, a dedicated cold case detective reviews it regularly.
"These cases are not going away. There's always somebody looking. The detectives are looking, continually searching," he said. "The people that did these offenses, they don't need to have that false sense of security, thinking they got by with it."
Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.