By the Associated Press
FARMINGTON, Utah (AP) — A man already serving life in prison without parole was ordered on Friday to stand trial for a murder committed 30 years ago.
Robert Lee Sales, 60, who is serv ing a life sentence for the 1971 rape and murder of 19-year-old Joann Poulsen, now faces a capital murder trial for the rape and strangulation of 17-year-old Roylene Alexander of Ogden in 1972.
“ I'd rather he plead guilty,” said Alexander's younger sister, Pam Hymas, after Friday's preliminary hearing. “ But if it does go to trial, it will bring some long-needed peace to our family.”
Police say Sales has always been the prime suspect in the killing of Alexander, whose body was found on the Davis County side of the Weber River the morning of June 15, 1972. But the case languished until advances in DNA technology allegedly allowed police to match semen found on the dead girl's clothing to Sales.
Even with the DNA evidence, Davis County prosecutors struggled over whether to charge Sales and take on the expense of a trial.
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole already has decided never to release Sales, based on his convic tion for the 1971 murder of Poulsen and his convictions in Montana for raping and attempting to kill a 19-year-old woman near Great Falls in 1972.
Even if Sales is convicted of Alexander's murder, he cannot be punished further. Prosecutors say execution is not an option because the killing occurred during the constitutional moratorium on the death penalty that ended in 1977.
On Friday, state crime laboratory criminalist Pilar Shortsleeve testi fied she had matched semen from Alexander's clothes to Sales in 1997 — but only to a one in 1,000 certainty. Then, in 1999, she ran the test again using a newer method. That time, the chance that the semen was not from Sales was only one in 371 billion.
Davis County Sheriff Kevin Fielding — who began reinvestigat ing the case in 1995 — said Alexander was apparently strangled with a leather belt. He said a piece of the belt and a silver belt buckle found at the crime scene are similar to a belt Sales wore. Shoe prints found at the scene are consistent with a pair Sales owned.
Defense lawyer Glen Cella claimed a deputy bungled the crime scene by moving Alexander's body before detectives could diagram the scene and search for evidence.
A pretrial hearing is set for April 10 before 2nd District Judge Darwin Hansen.