December 2, 2019 | By Lianna Norman
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
George DeCosta didn’t mind if it was fresh or salt water, he just loved to fish. He wanted to move to Houston, get a bigger boat, and had plans to buy his mom a seafood restaurant.
He never got that chance.
DeCosta was shot and killed in Jacksonville, Florida in 2016. He left behind his partner of 26 years, her two sons, a sister, a mother, his dreams of making it out of Jacksonville, and the question of who killed him.
George DeCosta was 46 years old.
“Houston was where his heart was. Houston was his dream,” George’s mother, Carol DeCosta, said. “I hate that he didn’t get to follow his dream. He was on the way.”
George really was on the way. He and his fiancé, ReNee Sanders, were in the process of relocating to Texas when he was killed. He had been traveling back and forth to Houston, getting things ready.
Although he and Sanders weren’t yet married, they might as well have been. George would have married ReNee any day, on the spot, but Sanders told him that she wanted to wait until the time was right.
“Everyone thought we were already married,” Sanders said. “George always wanted to get married, but I said, ‘No. We have to wait to do it right: with our families there.’”
Shortly before DeCosta was killed, he asked ReNee one last time to marry him right then and there. He didn’t see any use in waiting. Sanders didn’t know until about a month later how much she would regret saying no.
DeCosta had only been back from his last trip to Houston for about six weeks when he was killed. He was riding his bicycle through the nearby neighborhood of Moncrief – an area where the crime rate is more than twice the national average – to visit a friend’s house. DeCosta liked riding his bike often because it kept his heart healthy.
Shortly after she got home from dropping George off, Sanders got a call from the friend he was going to meet.
“He called me and said, ‘George is dead.’ I said, ‘What do you mean George is dead?’” Sanders said.
Sanders recalled the crime scene as not being particularly bloody despite his wounds. With a bank robbery and hostage situation playing out across town, it took officers some time to get to Droad Street, where DeCosta was shot.
“It was all a blur. I got there before the police,” Sanders said. “George had been shot over 10 times.”
No one saw who killed George and now, it remains just as mysterious as the day it happened. Not knowing who killed her fiancé has haunted Sanders and tugged her from social situations.
“It’s the not knowing,” Sanders said. “It has made me more to myself because I don’t know. It could be someone who’s right there smiling in my face every day.”
George didn’t make it to see his 47th Christmas. The holidays have stopped for Sanders, too.
“I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore,” Sanders said. “I don’t celebrate my birthday or anything.”
Sanders doesn’t want revenge for her stolen holidays. With George’s murder still unsolved, she hopes not for retribution, but for justice.
“I had to pray myself out of wanting revenge,” Sanders said. “I don’t want revenge, I want justice. I want whoever did this to think, for the rest of their lives, about what they took away.”
What they took was a man who used his life experiences to help others through their own experience. Having been briefly incarcerated earlier on in his life, DeCosta was known for being a mentor to children with incarcerated parents. In fact, it mattered so much to him that the family has decided to keep his vision for these kids alive.
“He was a wonderful young man and a wonderful son,” Carol DeCosta said. “He loved kids and he loved people. He would give you the shirt off his back.”
When George died, the family offered a $20,000 reward in hopes of finding the person responsible for taking his life. For each year that the murder has gone unsolved, they have taken $1,000 away from the reward to give as a sort of scholarship to a child with an incarcerated parent in Jacksonville.
George DeCosta’s kindness outlived his unjust death. “In my heart, he’s still with me,” his mother said. “He’s with me every day.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of George DeCosta, please call the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-0500. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a $3,000 reward, call First Coast Crime Stoppers at (866) 845-TIPS.
Research and Impact
Some aspects of homicide investigations that survivors may not consider are the complexities that factor into how a case is strategically worked by law enforcement. Some of those factors include establishing investigative jurisdiction, recognizing trends in homicide, as well as understanding clearance rates and how they factor in relation to “solving” crimes. For survivors left behind, that aspect of a homicide investigation is as foreign as the burden of their loss.
While the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program lists two categories for “closed” cases, the subcategories of each require explanation. Homicide cases can be labeled “cleared” through arrest or exceptional means, a required criteria for cases to be considered in publishing and summary reporting on the UCR.
A case “cleared by arrest” will see an offender charged with an offense, as well as turned over to prosecution for judicial process. Equally, a case “cleared by exceptional means” refers to an offender being identified, but the lack of evidence do’t support arrest, charges, and judicial process.
However, circumstances preventing follow-through from law enforcement are encountered. Some situations could include death of the offender by suicide or extradition issues.
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