DNA cracks cold case of 1998 Christmas Eve double murder
MINNEAPOLIS — Authorities finally put to bed this week the case of a young couple's 1998 murder, thanks to a new round of DNA testing.
On Monday, Jason Richard Preston, a 37-year-old California prison inmate, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in the Christmas Eve 1998 deaths of Dustin Baity, 20, and Carrie Richter, 18, in their Minneapolis apartment.
Under questioning from his attorney, Preston admitted he went to the couple's apartment at 1010 23rd Ave. N.E. on Dec. 24, 1998, according to the Hennepin County attorney's office. He and Baity got into an argument over a drug debt and Preston grabbed a cord of some sort and strangled Baity, who was smaller than Preston. Shortly after that, Richter came out of another room and he stabbed her repeatedly, Preston admitted, according to a statement from the office of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.
For years, the case had stumped investigators as they speculated about possible connections to prior drug-dealing tenants and satanic drawings and writings recovered from the apartment. Some evidence from the scene was tested for DNA in 1999 but only that of the victims was identified.
In 2009, federal grant money for DNA testing in cold cases breathed new life into the investigation. In early 2010, police took 13 items to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for further DNA testing and the lab found a drop of blood from an unknown man, according to Freeman's office.
The DNA was checked annually against ever-growing law enforcement databases and in March 2013, a match was made to Preston. He was serving 39 years in prison for a California robbery and home invasion. In 2014, a Hennepin County grand jury indicted Preston on four counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder.
As part of a plea agreement, the first-degree murder charges were dismissed and Preston is expected to receive 24 years in prison for each second-degree murder conviction. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 6.
However, in a courtroom surprise Monday, Preston admitted only to helping another person kill Richter. Preston said Richter struggled and he held her so the other person could stab her to death, according to Freeman's office, which didn't buy it.
"We are very satisfied with Mr. Preston's plea and the fact that he will receive a very long prison sentence," Freeman said. "Based on DNA results, and the fact that he never mentioned an accomplice until today, we are quite certain we have the only killer of this young couple who were starting out their lives together."
At the end of the hearing, Preston asked to address the members of the two families in the courtroom.
"I am truly sorry, and sorry for their loss," Preston said, according to Freeman's office. "I just pray they have some closure today."
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