Trial begins for former Marine accused of 1975 murder in Texas

The capital murder trial of a Texas man charged in a 1975 rape and strangulation began Tuesday, nearly 40 years after a 20-year-old secretary went home for lunch one fateful afternoon.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that opening statements and testimony have begun in the capital murder trial of Willie Jenkins, who allegedly raped and strangled Sheryl Ann Norris. A forensic expert testified that Norris, who worked at the Crime Prevention Institute of Texas in San Marcos, had fought her attacker, kicking a hole in the wall as she struggled in a bathtub on Nov. 24, 1975.

“By all accounts, Sheryl had everything going for her until that day,” Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner said.

Norris was found partially clothed, with two scarves tied tightly around her neck while partially submerged in a bathtub full of water. She had been raped, strangled and drowned, Tanner said, adding that the investigation took more than three decades because science had to catch up to the evidence, including DNA and semen collected from the grisly crime scene.

Technicians from the Department of Public Safety were able to extract a more complete DNA profile in 2010, and then submitted it to a national database, the newspaper reports. A hit came back a few weeks later for Jenkins, 59, who was being held at the Coalinga State Hospital in California under a civil commitment order. He has been convicted of four rapes in California and Texas.

Investigators have since been able to place Jenkins in Texas on the day Norris was killed. He was an active-duty Marine stationed in California at the time, but he had been given leave to visit his sick wife in San Antonio, the newspaper reports. The date of Norris’ killing falls within the dates of his leave, Tanner said.

Wayne Andrus, Norris’ boyfriend, told the jury he found Norris’ body in the bathroom and tried to lift her, thinking she had slipped. Her body was already stiff, he testified. Andrus told investigators at the time that he had sold a significant amount of marijuana the week before Norris’ death, but not at the apartment. He was later excluded through DNA evidence.

Defense attorneys had not yet presented opening statements in the case. Judge Gary Steel said he will consider a defense motion to suppress DNA evidence on Wednesday.

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