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Killer apologizes for 1990 murder; denies knowledge of other slaying

Published March 2, 2010 6:54 pm

Crime » Noffsinger could spend the rest of his life in prison.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

During a Tuesday hearing before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, Thomas E. Noffsinger tearfully apologized to the family of a man he brutally murdered during a decades-old restaurant burglary.

But Noffsinger -- a chief suspect in the 1989 disappearance of a Sandy woman -- had nothing new to say to her family members.

"We would have hoped -- we still hope -- that if [Noffsinger] is in any way responsible [for Annette Hill's death], he would be willing to admit that," the missing woman's brother, Allen Hill, told news reporters. "We would like to know."

Noffsinger, 42, is currently serving up to life in prison for the March 3, 1990, stabbing of 37-year-old Victor Aguilar, a pie chef at a Marie Callender's restaurant in Salt Lake City, who left behind a wife and four young children.

Noffsinger, aka Thomas Trujillo, is also suspected in Hill's disappearance.Hill, 38, was last seen in the early morning hours of May 13, 1989, just blocks from the Avenues apartment where Noffsinger lived at the time.

During the investigation of Aguilar's slaying, police found items belonging to Hill at apartments Noffsinger had rented -- a blood-stained black purse containing Hill's driver license and a pill bottle bearing her name.

Parole board vice-chairman Clark Harms asked Noffsinger how he acquired Hill's belongings and Noffsinger repeated what he told police 20 years ago: He never met Hill. He stole the purse during a car burglary.

"I was always car-hopping -- stealing what I could from people's cars," Noffsinger told Harms.

Harms replied, "That explanation seems fairly ludicrous to me."

Retired Salt Lake City homicide Detective Jill Candland said after the hearing she believes Noffsinger killed Hill and disposed of her body, which has never been found.

Candland said Hill was carrying her purse on the night she disappeared, while her car sat unmolested in the carport of her Sandy condo.

Annette Hill's nephew, Paul McCurdy, told The Tribune he had talked to Noffsinger by phone once and written him three letters in recent months "asking for answers and closure."

McCurdy said Noffsinger told him, "There's nothing I can say or do to ease your mind aside from giving you a place where she may or may not be, and I'm unable to do that."

Allen Hill said his sister's disappearance had caused "a great deal of anxiety for our family."

But while Noffsinger's involvement with Annette Hill remains uncertain, there is no doubt of the harm he has caused the Aguilars.

Noffsinger, then 19, and accomplice Grant David Stensrud, 20, were prying loose a floor safe at the Marie Callender's restaurant, 52 W. 200 South, when Victor Aguilar, 37, arrived for work about 4 a.m.

Encountering Aguilar in the kitchen, Noffsinger stabbed him five times in the back with a 12-inch-long knife, then slit his throat, according to Candland.

Stensrud, who claimed he kicked Aguilar and then left the kitchen, pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder and was sentenced to five years to life in prison. He was paroled in 2007. Noffsinger pleaded guilty to capital murder and was sentenced to prison for up to life.

Julia Aguilar told Harms about the pain of breaking the news of her husband's death to her children. She said she initially referred to his demise as "an accident."

She also described her struggle as a single parent raising four children -- who were then 9 months, 5, 7 and 8 years old -- all the while wondering how different life would be if her husband had lived.

But she told Noffsinger, "I have no hatred ... I have learned to forgive."

The slain man's oldest daughter, Elizabeth Aguilar, also said she had forgiven Noffsinger. But she nevertheless called him "the monster who destroyed my family," and said he should remain in prison for life.

She added that Noffsinger pleaded guilty to capital murder to avoid potential execution. "He traded the death penalty for life in prison, and that's what he should get," Aguilar said.

A red-eyed Noffsinger said he has not been able to forgive himself for what he did. But he claimed, "I am a much better person than what I was. I feel now. I understand what I've done to these other individuals.

"If given a chance for parole ... I've no doubt I could succeed in society."

Harms told Noffsinger that the full five-member parole board could take as long as a month to decide his fate for the murder of Victor Aguilar.

"As you leave here today, Mr. Noffsinger, you are serving a life sentence," Harms reminded the inmate. "This crime is such that you may very well never walk out of this prison."

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The disappearance of Annette Hill

On the evening of May 12, 1989, Annette Hill said good night to her 11-year-old daughter at their Sandy condominium and left for a Friday night on the town.

Leaving her vehicle in her carport, the 38-year-old social worker went to Club 90, in Sandy, and then to Salt Lake City's Zephyr Club, according to police.

From there, Hill went home with a man who lived in the Avenues, but left his residence early that morning and was never seen again. Police say the man was thoroughly investigated and ruled out as a suspect.

About 10 months later, Hill's blood-stained black purse containing her driver license, and a prescription pill bottle bearing her name, were found at homes rented by Thomas Noffsinger, who was then being investigated for the slaying of a Marie Callender's pie chef.

Noffsinger insists he acquired the items during a car burglary. But retired Salt Lake City homicide Detective Jill Candland believes Noffsinger, who lived in the Avenues, was on his way home from work when he encountered Hill, killed her and disposed of her body.

Sandy Capt. Warren Jeffery said if they obtained new information about Hill's case, "We would certainly open it up. All the leads we've received to this point haven't panned out."