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Man convicted in 1990 slaying of 82-year-old woman sentenced

March 29, 2012 |  7:03 am

Alma Harvey
A 51-year-old man has been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in the cold-case murder of an elderly woman in South L.A., prosecutors said.

A jury found Isidro Rodriguez Ponce guilty earlier this month of first-degree murder in the slaying of 82-year-old Alma Harvey, Ponce's one-time neighbor.

Harvey was found dead in her home in the 800 block of East 32ndStreet on Feb. 26, 1990, by her close friend and neighbor, Mary Romer. Police later determined Harvey had been raped and strangled.

Many residents in the area suspected the killer was from a nearby home where crack had been sold.

The case remained unsolved until a few years ago when police decided to take a second look at it. Detectives tested DNA evidence found on Harvey's bed sheet, believing it had been left by her killer, but there was no match in the DNA national database.

But in 2004, Ponce was charged with felony possession of cocaine. Under a state law that had passed a few years before his arrest, Ponce was allowed to enroll in a drug rehab program instead of serving time in jail.

If he had been jailed, he would have been required to provide a DNA sample to authorities, according to Rouman Ebrahim, L.A. County deputy district attorney for the sex crimes division.

Ponce failed the drug rehab program and was automatically convicted of his 2004 crime, Ebrahim said.

In October 2008, Ponce was arrested on an outstanding domestic violence arrest warrant from Los Angeles. His 2004 conviction caught up to him and led authorities to take a DNA swab, which matched the sample from the crime scene when it was checked against the database, prosecutors said.

Ponce was arrested in January 2009 at the age of 48. He was later convicted of Harvey's murder by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury.

Prosecutors say the case is a good example of why DNA collection and forensics are important, particularly in cold cases that would have been forgotten.

"This case shows that people who commit these heinous crimes, whether it's murders and rapes in the past, they should not rest easy," Ebrahim said. "The evidence is out there; DNA is out there and at any given point they should expect a knock at the door from police trying to bring them to justice."


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Photo: Alma Harvey with her brother Frank Bell in 1981. Credit: Mary Romer.