OTTUMWA, Iowa (AP) — A judge declared a mistrial Thursday in the case of a man charged with first-degree murder in the 1974 slaying of a 17-year-old girl at an Iowa farmhouse.
Judge Richard Meadows declared the mistrial after jurors said they could not reach a verdict in the case against Robert Eugene Pilcher, 67. The jurors had been deliberating since last Jan. 23 at the Wapello County Courthouse in Ottumwa. Prosecutors will now have to decide whether to retry Pilcher, who has been jailed since his arrest in November 2012.
Prosecutors accused Pilcher of beating and fatally shooting Mary Jayne Jones at his cousin's farmhouse. Authorities arrested him 38 years after the slaying, when tests linked his DNA to semen stains on a blanket that was under Jones' body.
Pilcher denied any role in Jones' death. He said the semen came from an earlier sexual encounter with another woman, and prosecutors offered little other direct evidence linking him to the death.
Pilcher had been the main suspect in Jones' death from the beginning because of evidence that was powerful if also largely circumstantial. Pilcher had access to the farmhouse while his cousin was out of town. Four days before Jones was killed, Pilcher was accused of luring another woman to the home, handcuffing her and forcing her to perform a sex act.
He was arrested in Jones' death after an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation cold case unit re-examined the evidence. Forensic testing linked Pilcher's DNA — by then in a database of known felons for an earlier theft conviction — to three semen stains left on a blanket where Jones' naked body was found.
In addition to the DNA evidence, a former girlfriend testified Pilcher once bragged about having “offed someone” decades earlier in the Ottumwa area.
A brother-in-law testified that Pilcher contacted him in 2012 after learning the case had been reopened, gave him instructions for sending him money if he went to prison and made a vague statement about bad acts in his past. Prosecutors also said Pilcher was attracted to Jones and had asked her out when he was a customer at the drive-in restaurant where she worked.
Pilcher's lawyers argued that the DNA evidence didn't prove that he killed Jones, noting that it could have been left there during prior sexual encounters he had in the room. They argued that prosecutors failed to offer any witnesses putting Pilcher and Jones together outside of the restaurant and failed to show that he had handled the weapon used to kill her.
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