Utah judge hears evidence in 1989 murder
The night before Felicia Pappas died, her friend had news for her.
"I told her that night if I had a little girl, I was going to name it after her," Tonya Lynn Lucero said.
And Lucero did. Lucero was the final witness Thursday as a 3rd District Court judge heard testimony to determine whether Thomas Noffsinger, 46, would stand trial for murder and sexual assault in Pappas' 1989 death. The hearing resumes Friday, after which Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills could rule.
Pappas was just a 17-year-old Granite High School student when she was found murdered near 600 E. 4500 South in Millcreek. Her murder was considered unsolved until 2011 when, as Chad Grundy, the forensic science manager at the state crime lab, told the court Thursday, investigators got a break in the case: DNA pointing to Noffsinger.
The DNA, Grundy testified, was on a sperm sample found inside Pappas and on one vaginal and one rectal sample from Pappas. The odds of the samples belonging to someone other than Noffsinger is in the quintillions, Grundy said.
But defense attorney Heather Brereton asked Grundy about one sample that indicated DNA from a second unidentified man. Grundy said while it's possible that sample had DNA from a second man, the indicators were not as strong as they were for the presence of Noffsinger's DNA.
Later, accountant Jeffery Jensen testified about finding Pappas about 7 a.m. on April 6, 1989, naked from the waist down behind his office building. Deputy Utah Medical Examiner Ed Leis testified he went to the scene and found Pappas wearing only a blue sweater with a broken bra underneath and a shoe and sock on her left foot.
Someone strangled the 5 foot 3 inch, 110-pound Pappas, Leis testified, citing his autopsy, about 1 a.m. The perpetrator most likely used his hands. Someone also sexually assaulted her, Leis testified, though he couldn't say if the sexual assault happened before or after Pappas died.
About a dozen of Pappas' friends and family were in the courtroom and lightly gasped as the first crime scene photo of the teenager's body was displayed on a projection screen. Pappas' mother, who had been forewarned of the medical examiner testimony, was absent for that portion of the hearing.
Leis testified he has performed about 10,500 autopsies, but he indicated the Pappas case stood out.
"I live about 17 blocks east of where this occurred on 45th Street," Leis told defense attorney Heidi Buchi. "I think about this almost every time I drive by there."
Lucero, who as 16 at the time of her best friend's disappearance, testified she and Pappas went to the old Cushion N Cue pool hall at 2865 S. State St. late on April 5. She last saw Pappas crossing west on State Street.
Friday's witnesses are expected to include Pappas' mother and Unified Police Department cold case detective Todd Park. There was no testimony Thursday of how Noffsinger would have encountered Pappas.
Marita Viselli, who spoke to reporters Thursday on behalf of Pappas' mother, said Pappas and Noffsinger were not acquaintances and no one in the Pappas' family had heard of him before the DNA match.
Viselli said Pappas' mother isn't sure what sentence she wants to befall Noffsinger this time, but wants some closure for her daughter.
"She's lived the loss 25 years not knowing what happened to her daughter and without closure," Viselli said.
Noffsinger already imprisoned for life
O Thomas Noffsinger is already serving life in prison for the March 1990 murder of Marie Callender's pie chef Victor Aguilar. Noffsinger stabbed the father of four in the back, stomped on him and then slashed his throat as he and another man attempted to steal the business' safe.