ROCKY RIVER, Ohio (WJW) – It was a crime that stunned people across Northern Ohio.
In January 1992, a University of Toledo coed from suburban Cleveland was found murdered on the UT campus, and the investigation revealed the crime was committed by university police officer Jeffrey Hodge.
Nearly 30 years later, Hodge is now eligible for parole, and there is a new campaign to keep him in prison.
In the winter of 1992, 19-year-old Melissa Herstrum, a graduate of Rocky River High School, was a promising nursing student at the University of Toledo.
However, during the early morning hours of January 27 of that year, Herstum was pulled over by UT patrolman Hodge.
Toledo Police would later discover that after placing Herstum in handcuffs, Hodge took her to the university’s Scott Park Campus, where he shot her 14 times.
The next day, after Hodge placed a fake 911 call, he and another officer responded to the campus, where they reported finding Herstrum’s body frozen to the ground.
During an interview Tuesday morning in Rocky River, Melissa’s sister, Cindy Herstrum-Clark, told FOX 8,”It’s an awful, awful weight and a hole in our heart that will never go away.”
The week after the murder, Hodge was arrested after a longtime detective noticed unusual marks on Hodge’s handcuffs that were caused by him firing bullets into Herstrum’s body.
Testing revealed the presence of DNA on the handcuffs and Hodge’s police jacket.
“I never had a sister to grow up with. She was 19, just beginning her life and gone, and not because of an accident, but because of somebody who had a gun because he was a police officer. He removed her clothing, he fired the gun up and down her trunk, all the bullets. He wanted to see, I think, what he was creating,” Herstrum-Clark said.
In May 1993, Hodge pleaded guilty to charges that included aggravated murder and kidnapping.
By doing so, Hodge avoided the possibility of the death penalty. On that day, Hodge told the court that he did not know why he killed Herstrum, a statement that police and prosecutors called “self-serving.”
Hodge was sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole after 33 years.
Fast forward to 2021, the family of Herstum was horrified to discover that the State of Ohio is considering the possibility that Hodge would be granted parole after serving just 29 years.
Hodge is being given credit for “good behavior.”
FOX 8 asked Herstrum’s sister about her greatest fear if Hodge is released.
“That he would do more and worse, and I fear for myself, my family,” said Herstrum-Clark.
Melissa’s family and her old classmates at Rocky River High School have launched a campaign to try and convince the State of Ohio to keep Hodge behind bars.
Those who like to join the effort can visit a website in advance of Hodge’s parole hearing in two weeks.
“I never, ever want him to be set free. Ever,” said Herstrum-Clark.