FORT WORTH, Texas – A man accused of repeatedly stabbing a friend in 1984 after she rejected his romantic advances, then leaving her body to be found by her mother beside a blood-soaked bed, was convicted of capital murder late Friday by a Texas jury and sentenced to life in prison.
Ryland Shane Absalon, 45, was accused of stabbing 18-year-old Ginger Hayden more than 50 times in her family's Fort Worth apartment. Prosecutors alleged that he confessed two years later during a drug-treatment program, yet he wasn't charged until about 25 years later after the case was re-opened and DNA evidence was tested.
Absalon lowered his head as the verdict was read, and his wife began crying. She ran out of the courtroom sobbing loudly as the judge read the sentence of life in prison, which was automatic because prosecutors didn't seek the death penalty.
Hayden's relatives cried quietly in the courtroom.
Investigators said Hayden was attacked in her bed with a kitchen knife. She was found on the floor when her mother went into her room, wondering why her daughter's alarm clock kept ringing on what would have been the teenager's second day of college. She had dreams of becoming a physical therapist.
"I'm relieved that they finally put him away," her mother, Sharon Hayden Harvey, said after the verdict. She said she has thought about the brutality of the crime every day, but "now that he's in prison, I can let it go."
Defense attorney Gary Udashen declined comment after the verdict.
During closing arguments earlier Friday, Udashen said Absalon falsely confessed because he was pressured and abused at the drug-treatment center and believed everything he said would be kept confidential. He argued that some of Absalon's DNA was found in Hayden's apartment because the teens were former high school classmates and neighbors who would hang out.
Udashen reminded jurors that DNA found under Hayden's fingernails, as well as on a quilt and a sock, matched an unknown man. The attorney also noted that a rash of murders of attractive young women in the mid-1980s in Fort Worth prompted police to form a task force.
"It won't help Ginger or her mother for police to stop looking for her killer," Udashen told jurors, adding that it "does not appear to be the crime of a 17-year-old kid."
Absalon was arrested in 2010 at his home in Sierra Vista, Ariz., where he was working as a welder and living with his wife and young child. News of his arrest prompted some former participants in the drug-treatment program to tell police about his confession -- more than two decades after they'd been told that everything said at the center must remain confidential.
One former participant testified that about two years after Hayden's murder, Absalon said in a group therapy session in the drug treatment program that he fatally stabbed a young woman when he was high on heroin.
Prosecutors said Absalon's 1986 confession in the treatment program supported the evidence and included details that only the killer would know: that he took a knife from the victim's kitchen, hid in the closet until she went to sleep and then stabbed her on the bed.
Absalon told another participant that he killed Hayden because he was angry that she only wanted to be friends after he told her that he wanted a romantic relationship, according to testimony. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that one witness testified during the trial that Absalon said nobody would find out because he covered it up too well, washing his hands and cleaning up in the bathroom. Prosecutors said he used socks as gloves.
Absalon's DNA was found in the bathroom on a towel and bloody sock, and a piece of wood from the knife that killed Hayden also was found on one of the socks, according to testimony.