SANTA ANA (CNS) - A Santa Rosa man was convicted today of strangling a 31-year-old woman in her La Palma apartment four decades ago.
Jurors deliberated for about two hours before convicting Larry Stephens, 68, of first-degree murder for killing Patricia ``Annie'' Ross on the evening of Dec. 11, 1974.
Stephens, who is scheduled to be sentenced May 4, faces seven years to life in prison because that was the punishment on the books at the time of the slaying, said Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker.
``I am so thankful that after all these years that DNA (technology) could bring justice for Annie Ross, because this crime is every woman's nightmare,'' Walker said.
Ross did not know the defendant but had been a roommate of a neighbor, Paul Williams, who lived a couple of doors down from the victim, according to Walker, who said a motive for the killing was unclear.
Walker argued that Stephens was a misogynist, referring to how he characterized himself in a letter from jail to his third wife. The prosecutor said there was evidence that the victim was sodomized, but the defendant was charged only with the murder count.
Ross had just sold her share in a plant store business to take a job at Hughes Aircraft Co. She left work early to pick up pizza because she was going to celebrate in Seal Beach that night with her boyfriend, Bob Johnson, a girlfriend, Shari Rosen, and another friend, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy named Rod Walthers. When she didn't show up, Rosen sent Walthers to check on Ross, and he found her body at her apartment at 5600 Orangethorpe Ave, Walker said.
The victim's small dog, which was found locked in a drawer, was an ``unsung hero'' because the canine's bites of the suspected killer eventually allowed authorities to charge Stephens, the prosecutor said.
Crime scene investigators collected blood samples, hoping to make a blood match with the killer -- DNA technology did not exist yet -- but the case grew cold, she said.
When the case was reopened in 1996, DNA technology was emerging, so blood from a window sill was tested and a profile was developed, but there was no match in criminal databases.
In 2009, crime lab investigators determine that blood on a comforter matched the profile of the blood on the window sill, Walker said.
In May 2015, investigators were able to match the DNA with the defendant when he was arrested for domestic violence and was compelled to contribute his genetic material, Walker said. Stephens had never been questioned before in the case, she said.
In August 2015, investigators developed a match of Stephens' DNA with genetic material found under Ross' fingernails, Walker said. Investigators believe Ross fought for her life as she tried to loosen the grip of her killer, the prosecutor said.
After his arrest for domestic violence, Stephens penned incriminating- sounding letters to his wife from his jail cell, Walker said. In one letter, he wrote, ``I know I'm a monster and that in some ways this may be for the best,'' referring to his link to the Ross murder, according to the prosecutor.
Stephens' attorney, Jay Moorhead of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, said the DNA on the victim's fingernails matched males in his client's family, but did not specifically match only the defendant.
While the evidence may show Stephens was in the victim's apartment, it doesn't say when he was there, Moorhead argued.
Moorhead also told the jury that Johnson acted suspiciously the night of his girlfriend's murder. For instance, he went to play basketball while his friends grew concerned that Ross had not showed up for the party, Moorhead said. Johnson also arrived home with blood stains on him and showered before he was questioned by detectives, according to the defense attorney.
``He had a cut on his head and blood on his shirt,'' Moorhead said, adding that Johnson's semen was found on the victim's bed sheets.
Johnson has also alternated between telling investigators over the years that he was in love with the victim and characterizing it as a ``casual'' relationship, the defense attorney said.
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