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DNA leads to arrest in 1975 'cold case'

September 14, 2009 12:01:47 AM PDT
Detectives arrest a suspect in a 1975 rape and murder cold case.It was the coldest of cold cases: the rape and murder of an elderly woman more than three decades ago. But now detectives say they have cracked it and have arrested a suspect.

It is the oldest cold case so far solved by the use of DNA evidence. Nearly 34 years ago an 80-year-old Mar Vista woman was brutally raped and killed. Police say her killer was a teenager, now under arrest for murder, caught because of a voter-passed measure that requires DNA samples from all felony arrests.

Eighty-year-old Alice Lewis was living by herself in Mar Vista. On the night of December 18, 1975, someone broke into her home and raped and killed her.

"This was a particularly horrific crime. A lot of physical damage was done to the victim prior to the rape, and then she was suffocated after the rape," said LAPD Chief of Detectives Charlie Beck.

In 1975 there were no DNA tests. But a coroner's blood sample was saved. Cold case detectives found it.

Fifty-year-old Dennis Vasquez had been arrested on an unrelated charge of receiving stolen property in April. All felony arrestees must give police a DNA sample. The blood sample in the coroner's possession was analyzed for cold case detectives.

Meghan Cirivello, of the Scientific Investigation Division, performed the analysis.

"I was very surprised that they were able to find somebody after so much time," said Cirivello.

Dennis Vasquez was 17 at the time of the murder. Because he was a juvenile he can't be given the death penalty.

Vita Mones moved in after the murder but is surprised and relieved that after all this time the suspected murderer is under arrest.

"That is pretty amazing," said Mones. "It's hard to conceive."

LAPD Chief of Detectives Beck was surrounded by the cold case detectives and criminalists who helped solve the case.

"This effective investigation and application of DNA technology is going to change the way that society looks at sexual assault," said Beck. "Sexual assaults are no longer going to go unsolved. People are no longer going to go unidentified."

Some of the cases being reviewed by the LAPD are very old. But according to the detectives, they know which cases since 2000 involve DNA. California has the third-largest DNA databank in the world.

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