A teen girl murdered in Tulare County in the mid-1970s was not a victim of Golden State Killer suspect Joseph DeAngelo, the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday after reviewing DNA evidence in the 44-year-old case.
It’s unclear if the conclusion by the DA’s Conviction Review Unit will mollify critics of the prosecution of Oscar Clifton, who was convicted of the murder and died in prison.
Donna Jo Richmond, 14, disappeared Dec. 26, 1975 while riding her bike to her home near Exeter. Her body was found in an orange orchard east of Exeter two days later.
Clifton, 35, a carpenter and painter, was found guilty after evidence was presented that his invoice book was found under her bike.
He was sentenced to life in prison and died in prison in 2013.
He always maintained he was innocent. Supporters say the invoice book was planted by the real killer to frame him.
The conviction review report is the first time the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office has stated that DNA evidence clears DeAngelo as a suspect in the Richmond homicide.
The review shows the right person was prosecuted, the DA’s Office said.
“This is a case that has had a significant impact on Tulare County for decades,” said Assistant District Attorney David Alavezos. “It is still something that is a topic of conversation.”
After DeAngelo was arrested last year in Sacramento County as the suspect in the East Area Rapist homicides, authorities revealed that he lived in Tulare County in the mid-1970s and worked as a police officer in Exeter.
In 2011, a partial DNA profile was developed from semen found on one of Richmond’s pubic hairs, the report states. After DeAngelo was arrested last year by Sacramento County, his DNA was compared to the partial DNA profile from the Richmond case.
“DeAngelo’s DNA is not consistent with the DNA profile contained in semen that was analyzed; therefore, Joseph DeAngelo is excluded as a potential suspect in the murder of Donna Jo Richmond,” the report states.
Rather than implicating DeAngelo, the DNA evidence further points to Clifton as Richmond’s killer and that Clifton was properly convicted, the DA’s report indicates.
“The DNA analysis provides additional support for the conviction of Oscar Clifton in the murder of Donna Jo Richmond,” the report states.
The partial DNA sample was compared to a similar sample of Clifton’s DNA. They matched, but the sample is not enough to identify Clifton as the perpetrator. However, “Clifton cannot be eliminated as the contributor of the semen found on the victim,” the DA report states.
The conviction review team of two attorneys from the DA’s Office and DA investigators went over the evidence from the trial, including photos, physical evidence and court transcripts.
“Therefore, based on the totality of the circumstantial evidence presented at trial and the subsequent appeals process, there is ample evidence to support the conviction,” the report sates.
Lawyer Tony Reid of Los Angeles has long maintained that Clifton is innocent. He has extensively examined the case and documented his finding in the podcast 12-26-75.
He questioned whether semen was contained in the evidence tested for DNA. He noted that the scientist who tested the sample wrote on a data sheet, “No cellular material seen; debris only; no sperm.”
“If, in fact, there was no semen … then suspect DeAngelo was not cleared by the testing,” he said in a statement.
Reid added that the DA’s report clearing DeAngelo contains “numerous misstatements of fact, and other outright falsehoods.”
The Richmond homicide occurred during the same era as the Visalia Ransacker, who broke into homes in Visalia and killed homeowner Claude Snelling.
The possible connection between the East Area Rapist cases and the Ransacker had long been noted, but DeAngelo is now believed by authorities to be the Ransacker and has been charged in the Snelling homicide.
It was the Ransacker who shot and killed Snelling during a break-in of his home and the attempted kidnapping of his daughter Beth, 16.
Alavezos declined to say if there is DNA evidence in the Snelling homicide that links DeAngelo to the crime.
The Snelling homicide is one of 13 homicides around the state for which DeAngelo has been charged. He is being prosecuted in Sacramento County.
DeAngelo is also being looked at as a suspect in the murder of Jennifer Armour, 15, of Visalia, who disappeared and was found dead in a canal.
DeAngelo is due in court in Sacramento on April 10 for a hearing.