Utah inmate to stand trial for girl's 1989 murder
Debbie Troska said she was angry when she woke and found her 17-year-old daughter absent from their apartment.
"I just couldn't believe she wouldn't let me know she wouldn't be home," Troska said.
But it wasn't adolescent irresponsibility keeping Felicia Pappas away. That morning, April 6, 1989, an accountant found Pappas' half-naked body behind his office building in Millcreek, about two blocks from where Pappas and her mother lived. She had been strangled and sexually assaulted, according to a medical examiner.
On Friday, 24 years after the girl's death, a 3rd District Court judge ruled there was enough evidence for Thomas Evan Noffsinger to stand trial on charges of aggravated murder, rape and forcible sodomy. The murder charge carries the possibility of the death penalty. The judge, Elizabeth Hruby-Mills, scheduled Noffsinger, 46, for arraignment on Dec. 6.
Hruby-Mills' ruling came after 1 1/2 days of testimony. After Troska testified Friday about the last night she saw her daughter and some of the jewelry Pappas' wore, Unified Police Department cold case Detective Todd Park took the stand.
Park described how during a 2010 cold case summit that he organized, an employee of the Utah State Crime Lab told Park about biological evidence still in storage. The evidence was tested and pointed to Noffsinger.
Park twice went to the Utah State Prison to interview Noffsinger. In the first interview, Noffsinger denied any involvement in Pappas' death and assault.
In the second interview, Park testified Friday, Noffsinger said he didn't know how he came across Pappas. When someone in the interview suggested Noffsinger had "judged" Pappas the morning she died, Noffsinger replied yes, Park testified.
On Thursday, Chad Grundy, the forensic science manager at the state crime lab, told the court that three samples taken from Pappas had DNA consistent with Noffsinger. The odds of the samples belonging to someone other than Noffsinger is in the quintillions, Grundy said.
There was no testimony this week about how Noffsinger would have encountered Pappas. Noffsinger's attorneys did little to challenge the evidence and did not call any witnesses. Instead, they asked prosecution witnesses questions about investigative procedures or who they had discussed the Pappas case with over the years. Defense attorneys asked lots of questions about how evidence was collected, likely to lay the groundwork for a trial defense that the DNA samples were compromised.
At one point Friday, defense attorney asked Park about a blanket someone, probably a Salt Lake County sheriff's deputy, placed over Pappas' body. Park acknowledged he didn't know if the blanket was sterile and said at a crime scene today he would not use such a blanket.
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. Throughout this week's proceedings, Noffsinger sat quietly at the defense table shackled and wearing a white state prison jumpsuit. Aguilar's daughter, Liz Aguilar, attended this weeks' hearing.
After the hearing, Troska's friend, Marita Viselli, said Pappas' murder is not moot just because the defendant is already in prison.
Pappas "still deserves her day in court," Viselli said, "regardless of things Mr. Noffsinger has already gone to court for."