A New Mexico man was convicted Tuesday of raping and killing a 79-year-old woman more than four decades ago in a cold case that was solved with DNA evidence from the crime scene in an Anaheim apartment.
Andre Lepere, 64, was convicted of first-degree murder with an enhanced sentence because the crime was committed during rape. He could face life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced next month.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department announced Monday that a 1979 homicide case has been solved thanks to a donation from a local philanthropist.
The case is one of the oldest unsolved murder indictments in Anaheim.
Lepere was 22 years old and living in Southern California in 1980 when a neighbor of Viola Hagenkord discovered her body in the bedroom of her Anaheim apartment. There were signs of a struggle, authorities said.
Hagenkord had been sexually assaulted, had her ribs broken and was gagged with a pillowcase that suffocated her, prosecutors said.
The semen was collected in a rape kit, but DNA testing was in its infancy. The case went cold, but last year, the evidence was re-examined and tests advanced last year linked Lepere to DNA.
Lepere sometimes stayed with her sister at the Pebble Cove Apartments in Anaheim. Hagenkord lived a few units away. Neighbors were concerned when they hadn’t seen Hagenkord, well known throughout the complex, for two days.
At his trial, Lepere testified that he had consensual sex with Hagenkord and denied assaulting her, a claim the prosecutor called ridiculous.
When asked about the DNA evidence in court, Lepere did not deny that it was his, but denied raping or murdering Hagenkord. Testifying in her own defense, he said that she was alive when he left the residence.
It was on February 10, 1990 when one of the most brutal homicides in the history of the state of New Mexico occurred in the city of Las Cruces, a case that, to this day, remains unsolved.
“I was 22 years old,” Lepere said, Los Angeles Times reported. “I had a lot of women that I liked.”
Deputy District Attorney Christopher Alex told jurors that Hagenkord, who was born in 1900, gave up the men after divorcing her husband before the Great Depression, the Orange County Register reported.
He referred to Lepere’s claim that someone else attacked Hagenkord and left his own DNA undetectable as “ridiculous”.
“The most incredible chain of coincidences that could ever happen to an innocent man,” Alex said.
Lepere later left California and lived in various places, including Washington, Wyoming and Arizona, before being arrested last year in New Mexico.
This story first appeared on Telemundo 52’s sister station, NBCLA. Click here to read this story in English.