Trucker pleads guilty in young woman's cold case Colorado murder 40 years ago

Colorado prosecutors have obtained a guilty plea in a young woman’s 1980 rape and murder — a cold case they cracked just two months ago through DNA and genetic genealogy.

Truck driver James Curtis Clanton, 62, was in court Friday for a hearing when he agreed to plead guilty to killing 21-year-old Helene Pruszynski in Englewood on Jan. 16, 1980.

“Because of the unrelenting and outstanding efforts of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and United Data Connect, the resolution of a horrible sexual assault and murder in a desolate part of our county four decades ago ended within 15 minutes inside a courtroom this morning,” Douglas County  District Attorney George Brauchler said in a news release.

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James Curtis Clanton pleaded guilty to the murder of 21-year-old Helene Pruszynski in Englewood, Colo, 40 years ago. He was arrested in the cold case two months ago. (Douglas County Sheriff's Office)

James Curtis Clanton pleaded guilty to the murder of 21-year-old Helene Pruszynski in Englewood, Colo, 40 years ago. He was arrested in the cold case two months ago. (Douglas County Sheriff's Office)

Clanton was arrested Dec. 16, accused of abducting Pruszynski after she got off a bus and then dumping her body in a vacant lot after sexually assaulting and killing her. She had just moved to Colorado from Massachusetts to work as a journalism intern at a radio station.

Clanton was linked to the murder after investigators uploaded crime scene DNA to the public genealogy website GEDMatch.

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James Curtis Clanton was arrested in Florida and extradited to Colorado. (Douglas County Sheriff's Office)

James Curtis Clanton was arrested in Florida and extradited to Colorado. (Douglas County Sheriff's Office)

Clanton faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison in April. He is eligible for parole after 20 years. He faced the death penalty if the case had gone to trial.

“At his age, if you asked me to guess, I'd say I don't expect him to make parole,” Brauchler said, according to the Highlands Ranch Herald.

The paper quoted Sgt. Atilla Denes of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office as saying that Clanton opened up about the murder and expressed remorse as they were flying to Colorado from Florida, where he lived and was arrested.

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“He said that he felt that he had received many more years of freedom than he deserved,” Denes said.