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Man arrested in 1981 slaying of Whittier woman

April 20, 2012 |  3:54 pm

SuspectPhoto1A 51-year-old Northern California man has been charged with murder after he was linked through DNA to the 1981 rape and strangulation of a Whittier woman who had been a high school classmate.

Joseph Allen Thornton of Auburn, northeast of Sacramento, is expected to be arraigned in Superior Court in Whittier on a charge of murder with a special circumstance allegation of rape. He was taken into custody Wednesday by Whittier police at his home.

Thornton is alleged to have raped and killed Blanca Stella Negrete on June 27, 1981, in the 7600 block of Washington Avenue. Negrete, 21, worked at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital in Whittier. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office determined the cause of death to be strangulation.

After several months of investigation at the time, Whittier detectives exhausted their leads and were unable to identify a suspect. But in May 2010, homicide detectives reopened the case and identified sexual assault evidence, collected in 1981, that possibly contained useful DNA.

That evidence was sent to the county crime lab for processing. Detectives learned that the evidence produced enough DNA for a match in January, said Lt. Kent Miller. The information was entered into the national DNA Index System, and the DNA was matched to Thornton.

Subsequently, homicide detectives learned that Thornton and Negrete had attended Sierra High School and knew each other, Miller said. Thornton was 20 at the time of the killing and lived in the Whittier area. 

Miller said Thornton was later arrested on suspicion of domestic violence and his DNA entered into the state CODIS database.

Thornton is being held without bail. If convicted as charged, he faces life without parole or the death penalty. The district attorney’s office will announce later whether it will seek a death sentence.

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-- Richard Winton 

Photo: Joseph Allen Thornton. Credit: Los Angeles County district attorney's office