San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

November 23rd, 2010
DNA advances break murder case after 35 years of false starts

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San Marcos Police Department Chief Howard Williams announcing a grand jury indictment against Willie Roy Jenkins in a 35-year-old murder case. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

On Nov. 24, 1975, 20-year-old Sheryl Ann Norris was raped and murdered at her residence — 1631 Aquarena Springs Drive, No. 602.

For nearly 35 years, the combined resources of the San Marcos Police Department (SMPD), the Texas Rangers and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) couldn’t reveal a suspect.

But in the last seven months, 35 years of investigative persistence finally turned up promising leads, with the help of ever-improving technologies for DNA identification. Last Friday, a Hays County grand jury indicted Willie Roy Jenkins, 57, on a capital murder charge in the Norris case.

Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe (D-Buda) said Monday that Jenkins may face the death penalty or life imprisonment if convicted. Tibbe said the offenses of murder and rape both are included in the capital murder charge.

“All punishment options are on the table at this time,” Tibbe said.

At the time of the murder, law enforcement gathered evidence from Norris’ body and elsewhere, and submitted it to the DPS. Nothing turned up. In 1997, the SMPD resubmitted the evidence. Again, nothing came of it.

“The original investigation conducted by the San Marcos Police Department and Texas Rangers did not reveal a suspect,” SMPD Chief Howard Williams said. “From time to time, detectives had re-investigated the case, but a solution was evasive. However, recent advances in DNA technology allowed investigators to identify a suspect in the case.”

More recently, SMPD resubmitted evidence to the DPS crime laboratory for new analysis, but the partial profile was insufficient for a search through the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). In April 2010, SMPD requested new analysis of the evidence and testing with a mini-filer kit for DNA.

On August 5, DPS informed SMPD of a “hit” in CODIS database indicating a match with an offender, who was verified as Jenkins four days later.

SMPD officers traveled to California at the end of August, interviewed Jenkins, and gathered his saliva pursuant to a search warrant. DPS advised SMPD on Sept. 15 that Jenkins’ DNA matched DNA gathered at the crime scene.

Williams said SMPD Commander Penny Dunn and Corporal Scott Johnson took over the investigation once Jenkins was identified as a suspect.

“It was amazing to watch them (Dunn and Johnson) reconstruct the life of the suspect from 35 years ago to be able to put him in the San Marcos area and associate him with this murder.” Williams said. “They did an incredible job on this investigation.”

Said Dunn, “We have had a remarkable amount of assistance from multiple agencies here in Texas and in California. At one point, when we get further along, we’ll be able to publicly discuss the participation of these other agencies.”

Dunn said Norris’ family has expressed a desire for privacy as the case unfolds.

Norris, a Florida native, was a 20-year old secretary at the Texas Crime Prevention Institute at Southwest Texas State University, now Texas State, when she was sexually assaulted and murdered in her apartment.

Jenkins is in custody in Fresno, CA, awaiting extradition to San Marcos for trial. Jenkins’ bond was set at $1 million. At the time of his arrest, Jenkins was being held at Coalinga State Hospital under a civil commitment as a sexually violent predator as defined by California law.

The Governor’s Office is assisting the Attorney General’s office to bring Jenkins to San Marcos for trial. Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner will assist Tibbe in the prosecution of the case. Tibbe said the Attorney General’s Office is involved “due to the complicated nature of the case, being 35 years old.” Tibbe said Tanner has a lot of experience prosecuting cold cases. Williams said the Norris case is considered “cold” no longer.

“We have a young woman who was raped and murdered here in San Marcos, a crime that really shocked this community,” Williams said. “And for 35 years the family has gone without closure. I think it’s important for people to know that when we talk about murder cases, the police department is not willing to give up. We may run into walls as we continue to investigate cold cases, but we don’t give up on murder cases. It just isn’t right and we’re not going to do it.”

SMPD still has five unsolved murder cases. The oldest now is the 1982 murder of Jose Alva Romero, who was stabbed outside of the Guadalupe Bar.

The other four cases are:

*  Santiago Garza, killed in 1982 by blows to the head. His remains were found in 1988 off River Road near the railroad tracks.

* Jose Antonio Romero, stabbed to death in 1992. His body was found near the San Marcos River turnaround on Interstate-35.

* Dionicio Torres Deleon, shot to death in 1992 in the 1700 block of the west side Interstate-35 access road.

* James Reyes, stabbed to death in 1998. His body was found on SH 80 near the Blanco River bridge.

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Sheryl Ann Norris, left, and Willie Roy Jenkins, right.

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3 thoughts on “DNA advances break murder case after 35 years of false starts

  1. Awesome. Another indicaton that science is a tool for felons to reckon with. You’ll always leave evidence that may come back to get you one day. This is going to be a tough one to defend against.

  2. This is the second cold case murder solved with the suspect at Coalinga State Hospital. Last year it was a case in Indiana. This will save CA about $150K a year housing him. Justice is swift (and cheaper) in Texas, good job all involved.

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