OTTUMWA, Iowa (AP) — Despite a lack of direct evidence connecting Robert “Gene” Pilcher to the killing of a 17-year-old waitress at his cousin's Iowa farmhouse, investigators immediately suspected him in the 1974 death, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday at his murder trial.
Three days before Mary Jayne Jones' beaten, bullet-ridden body was found in the bedroom of the farmhouse near Ottumwa, another woman told police that the married exterminator had handcuffed her in the same room and forced her to perform oral sex, Assistant State Attorney General Denise Timmins said in closing arguments.
Pilcher was convicted of sodomy and perjury in that case. He wasn't charged in Jones' death until two years ago, when cold case investigators matched his DNA to stains on the blanket beneath Jones' body.
“What are the odds that that semen is not connected to that crime scene, to the horrendous acts that occurred to Mary Jayne Jones?” Timmins asked jurors, urging them to convict Pilcher.
But the DNA evidence “cuts both ways,” defense lawyer Allen Cook told jurors, because prosecutors know Pilcher had sex in the bed earlier and could not prove when it was left. The earlier sexual encounter gives “a legitimate, innocent reason for why Gene Pilcher's DNA would be there,” he said.
Cook said that encounter involved a barmaid with whom Pilcher previously had consensual sex. He said that was a very different situation from the violent death of Jones.
But Timmins said there were similarities between the attack on Jones and the attack on the barmaid that led to the sodomy case. She read the barmaid's police statement recounting an attack in which Pilcher stripped and handcuffed her.
Timmins said that the attacks happened at the same time of day and that Pilcher neatly placed the victims' clothes on a chair.
Cook urged jurors to acquit Pilcher, 67, saying the state's case was based upon speculation. Prosecutors did not show how Jones ended up at the farmhouse, he said.
The attorneys also sparred over whether Pilcher had the time to commit the slaying, and whether there were other viable suspects.
Pilcher faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder. Jurors deliberated for an hour Thursday afternoon and will resume this morning.
“I feel fine, I guess,” Pilcher said as he waited for a verdict.
Jones' body was found on a bed in a farmhouse that was owned by Pilcher's cousin, Max Marlin, on April 9, 1974. Investigators say she had been beaten with a shotgun, sexually assaulted and shot with a rifle through the heart and the head.
Jones, who had moved to Iowa from North Carolina to live with her sister in 1973, was last seen hours earlier at an Ottumwa bank. Her body was discovered by Marlin's mother, who had stopped by the home while her son was out of town.
Timmins said Pilcher was always the prime suspect. Pilcher knew that his cousin was out of town, and he had access to the farmhouse. Pilcher had been rebuffed by Jones when he asked her out, Timmins said.
She said that it remained unclear how Pilcher got Jones to the house and that there were no eyewitnesses. But she said the circumstantial evidence points to Pilcher's guilt.
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