Trial in Ohio cold case murder ends with not guilty verdict

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NEWARK, Ohio (AP) – Many times, when a decades-old murder case is reopened with new DNA evidence and a suspect is charged, it is likely to lead to a conviction. But a case out of Licking County proves that is not always the case.

A jury acquitted 73-year-old Gustave Sapharas on a murder charge Thursday in a courtroom in Newark.

Authorities said a DNA match in 2009 helped lead to the North Canton man’s 2017 arrest in the 1991 slaying of 21-year-old Bonita Parker. The Columbus woman’s body was found in Licking County in August 1991. She had been stabbed in the heart.

County Prosecutor Bill Hayes said he respects the jury’s decision but believes Sapharas is guilty.

Defense attorney Diane Menashe said DNA evidence only showed Sapharas had been with Parker, who was known to work as a prostitute. Menashe said prosecutors offered no evidence that he killed her.

Sapharas maintains he didn’t know or recognize Parker.

In 2009, evidence in the case was resubmitted to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. BCI identified Sapharas as a DNA contributor, but no other evidence linked him with Parker’s murder.

In late 2015, Detective Shenan Day with the Licking County Sheriff’s Office began working with BCI. Together, they were able to build evidence of Sapharas’ involvement in the murder. According to the Licking County Sheriff’s Office, Det. Day and Lt. Brock Harmon interviewed Sapharas in March 2016, but officers say the suspect lied during the interview.

The sheriff’s office says Sapharas admitted his dishonesty during questioning about Parker’s murder. Officers obtained an arrest warrant and searched the suspect’s apartment on the 4100 block of Independence Circle in North Canton, Ohio.

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