Santa Rosa man arrested for 1974 Orange County killing

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KTVU and wires) -- A Santa Rosa man was arrested Monday for a decades-old homicide in Orange County after a DNA sample he gave when he was arrested for a March domestic violence incident matched evidence from the killing.

Larry Clark Stephens, 65, was arrested by Santa Rosa police on March 21 for inflicting corporal injury on a spouse, resisting arrest and obstructing an executive officer.

Stephens pleaded no contest to the charges on May 13 and was scheduled to be sentenced to a maximum of 120 days in jail on June 30, according to Sonoma County Superior C ourt records.

Instead, he will appear this afternoon in Sonoma County Superior Court before he is transferred to Orange County to face a felony murder charge. He is being held under $1 million bail.

Stephens gave a DNA sample when he was arrested by Santa Rosa police in March for the domestic violence incident at his Fulton Road home, Santa Rosa police Sgt. Dave Linscomb said.

The DNA sample matched a DNA profile collected from the scene of the Dec. 11, 1974, murder of 30-year-old Patricia Ross in the bedroom of her apartment in La Palma in Orange County, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

Ross lived alone and after completing errands that day, she told a friend she had to get home early to prepare for a date, Orange County prosecutors said.

Ross was expected to meet her date and another couple at the couple's Huntington Beach home. When she did not show up, Ross' friend's date went to her apartment and found her naked and lying face down in the bedroom, according to the district attorney's office.

Police discovered Ross' small dog unharmed inside a drawer in the bedroom. Ross and Stephens did not know each other, prosecutors said.

La Palma police began reinvestigating the cold case killing in 2008 with the Orange County District Attorney's Office and the Orange County Cold Case Homicide Task Force.

La Palma police Capt. Jim Engen said Stephens was never regarded as a suspect of the murder but was a person of high interest.

"We spoke to dozens of people and he was literally the last one we looked at. We talked to a lot of people who knew him and some people who mentioned his name," Engen said.

Engen said he could not disclose why Stephens' name kept coming up.

"There was no indication he lived at the apartment or anything linking him to the victim," Engen said.

Police had placed Stephens in Southern California at the time of the murder, Engen said.

La Palma police reviewed the case in 1996 and resubmitted evidence to a crime lab in 1997 when they located a DNA profile of an unknown male, Engen said.

In 2008, police went through the entire investigation again and interviewed people that had been interviewed before and some who were never interviewed, Engen said.

"We needed the DNA," Engen said.

Stephens was previously charged with a misdemeanor charge of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse, making threats and intimidating a witness or victim on March 23, 2008. The case was dismissed at the prosecution's request, according to Sonoma County Superior Court records.

Stephens also was charged with a misdemeanor count of obstructing a public officer on Feb. 22, 2002. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to a conditional term of 12 months in jail that expired a year later.