DNA from discarded gum leads to 1980 Oregon murder conviction

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By journalsofus.com

In the end, it was a piece of discarded gum, casually spit out on the ground in 2021, that was the key to solving the cold case of a college student’s murder that had confounded Oregon authorities for more than four decades.

Robert Arthur Plympton had been under police surveillance since authorities determined that year that he was a “likely contributor” to a DNA profile developed from swabs taken from the body of Barbara Mae Tucker, who was 19 when she was murdered in the community. of Mount Hood. University campus in 1980.

On Friday, Plympton, 60, was found guilty of murdering Ms. Tucker after a three-week trial in Portland, Oregon. According to The Oregonian, which reported on the investigation and The conviction of Mr. PlymptonIt was the oldest unsolved homicide to occur in Gresham, Oregon, east of Portland.

On the night of January 15, 1980, Ms. Tucker was expected to attend a class at the university, where she was studying business. She never arrived.

Students heading to class the next morning found his “partially clothed” body on a brush-covered slope near the campus parking lot, The Oregonian reported at the time. There were signs that Ms. Tucker had been sexually assaulted and that she had struggled with her attacker.

For decades, authorities were unable to identify a suspect or make an arrest.

The first step toward a breakthrough in the case came in 2000, when vaginal swabs that had been taken during Ms. Tucker’s autopsy were sent to the Oregon State Police Crime Laboratory for analysis. Lab technicians were then able to develop a DNA profile from the swabs.

In 2021, Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia company whose services include DNA-based forensic analysis, identified Mr. Plympton as “a possible contributor to the unknown DNA profile developed in 2000,” the county district attorney’s office reported. of Multnomah. said in a statement. It was unclear how the DNA connection was made; The district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Gresham Police Department detectives discovered that Plympton lived in Troutdale, Oregon, east of Portland and northeast of Gresham, and began surreptitiously surveilling him, prosecutors said.

When investigators saw Mr. Plympton spit a piece of gum on the ground, they picked it up and sent it to a state police crime lab, prosecutors said.

“The laboratory determined that the DNA profile developed from the chewing gum matched the DNA profile developed from Ms. Tucker’s vaginal swabs,” the district attorney’s office said.

Plympton was arrested on June 8, 2021, while driving away from the Troutdale home he shared with his wife and son, The Oregonian reported.

He had a criminal record, including a conviction for second-degree kidnapping in Multnomah County in 1985, according to the Oregon Department of Corrections.

Mr Plympton was 16 when Mrs Tucker was murdered. Witnesses reported seeing her with a man the night she was murdered, and several people reported seeing her run into the street waving her arms, perhaps trying to ask someone for help, The Oregonian reported.

Multnomah County Chief Deputy District Attorney Kirsten Snowden said at trial that there was no evidence that Ms. Tucker and Mr. Plympton knew each other, according to The Oregonian.

Plympton’s lawyer, Stephen Houze, said at trial that there was “unequivocal and unavoidable reasonable doubt” about who killed Ms. Tucker, according to The Oregonian. He said witnesses had described the man seen with Ms Tucker, who was almost six feet tall, as being his height or taller, but Mr Plympton was closer to 5ft 8in. He also said investigators never examined Ms. Tucker’s clothing for DNA evidence.

“We will appeal and are confident that their convictions will be overturned,” Houze and his legal partner Jacob Houze said in a statement Tuesday.

Judge Amy Baggio of Multnomah County Circuit Court found Mr. Plympton guilty of one count of first-degree murder and four counts of “different theories of second-degree murder,” according to the district attorney’s office.

“To be clear, this court has no doubt that Robert Plympton struck Barbara Tucker in the head and face until she died,” he said at the trial. “He did.”

Judge Baggio did not find Mr. Plympton guilty of sexual assault, saying prosecutors had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had assaulted Ms. Tucker while she was still alive, The Oregonian reported.

Mr. Plympton is scheduled to be sentenced on June 21. Based on his age at the time of Ms. Tucker’s death, faces a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 30 years on the charge of first-degree murder.

According to The Oregonian, two members of Ms. Tucker’s family cried and hugged each other after the verdict was announced. Tucker’s older sister, Alice Juan, said in a statement Tuesday that her family was “delighted that this has finally been resolved.”

“I thought maybe it wasn’t as the years went by, but Barbie was a special little girl,” he said. Her little sister, she added, “was bright, happy, loving, all those things.”

kitty bennett contributed to the research.

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