OAKLAND (CBS SF) — In what might be the oldest case ever tried in Alameda County, a man already serving time for a sex crime in another state was convicted of first-degree murder on Monday for the stabbing and strangulation death of a 45-year-old woman in Oakland in 1979.
Dennis Eagle, who was only 18 years old at the time but is now 57, also was convicted of a special circumstance allegation that he murdered Betty Elias at her motel room on San Pablo Avenue on Oct. 29, 1979, during a rape or an attempted rape.
Jurors only deliberated for about four hours before reaching their verdict.
Elias’ death remained unsolved for 37 years until 2015, when DNA and fingerprint evidence connected Eagle to the crime.
Alameda County Mark Melton said Eagle wasn’t even a suspect in Elias’ murder until the DNA connection was established.
Melton told jurors in his closing argument last week that Elias’ blood on her mattress and on her wall is evidence of how violent her death was.
The prosecutor alleged that Eagle pulled off her clothes, had sex with her, strangled her and “continued to choke the life out of her.”
Melton said Eagle’s DNA is in a national database because he’s serving time in a federal prison in Virginia for a sex crime he committed at the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana, where he’s lived most of his life.
The prosecutor said Eagle’s fingerprint was on a curtain rod in Elias’ room and his sperm was found in her vagina.
Melton said Elias worked as a bartender near her apartment but it appears that she wasn’t working the night she was raped and killed.
He said it’s unclear how Eagle met Elias because he’s lived in Montana most of his life.
But Melton said his theory is that Eagle targeted Elias because she was inebriated, as she had a 0.24 blood-alcohol level at the time of her death, and may have been unsteady and exhibited slurred speech as she walked down San Pablo Avenue late at night and that he might have followed her to her room.
Eagle’s attorney, Richard Foxall, asked jurors to find Eagle not guilty of murder, arguing that the DNA evidence in the case is unreliable.
But Melton said he believes the DNA evidence “is pretty damning” and proves that Eagle committed the crime.
When authorities questioned Eagle in 2015 he denied ever meeting Elias or ever being in Oakland.
But in his closing argument Melton said, “Well, sir, how did your sperm get here, how did your fingerprint get here?”
Melton, who has been in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office for more than 30 years and has prosecuted other “cold case” murders, said he thinks Eagle’s case is the oldest that’s ever been tried in the county.
Eagle faces life in prison without parole when Judge Rhonda Burgess sentences him on June 28.
But Melton said Eagle won’t begin serving his sentence for Elias’ death until 2022, because he still has to finish serving the last four years of his sentence for his conviction for his Montana sex crime.
Elias’ daughter, Joanne Paletta, her sister and her niece attended Eagle’s trial.