SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Two men charged with murder in the shotgun slayings of two young girls made their first court appearances Wednesday, but the lead prosecutor said they can't face the death penalty because it wasn't an option when the girls were sexually assaulted and killed more than 40 years ago.
The district attorney in Yuba County, California, filed six counts of murder against 65-year-old cousins William Lloyd Harbour and Larry Don Patterson, who both lived near the victims in Olivehurst, California, when they were killed in November 1973.
Harbour pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in California on Wednesday, said Deputy District Attorney John Vacek, while Patterson was ordered held without bond in Oklahoma.
Patterson said he intends to waive extradition back to California to face charges in the deaths of 12-year-old Valerie Janice Lane and 13-year-old Doris Karen Derryberry, said officials there.
The girls' mothers first reported them missing as runaways on Nov. 12, 1973, after they failed to return home overnight from a shopping trip to a mall in nearby Linda.
But the Yuba County Sheriff's Department was notified a few hours later that their bodies had been found along a dirt road in a wooded area near Marysville, north of Sacramento, where they had been shot at close range with a shotgun.
The case went cold decades ago, Yuba County authorities said, until a state forensics lab matched DNA from the two suspects to semen from both men found on Derryberry.
The six murder charges — three for each of the victims — include one count each of premeditated murder, one count of murder committed during a rape or attempted rape, and one count of murder committed while molesting a child.
But they won't face the possibility of execution, District Attorney Patrick McGrath told The Associated Press.
The case must be tried under the law as it existed in California in 1973, he said in an email: "During that time, the death penalty was not available in California, so the death penalty is not under consideration. I informed the family of that yesterday."
The most the men could face is a life sentence, but the law then provided that they could be considered for parole after serving seven years, McGrath said.
Vacek said the girls' families had little reaction when they were told Tuesday that the death penalty wasn't an option. "I think they were just kind of overwhelmed with the information they were being provided, so that was just a piece of it," he said.
Yuba County Sheriff Steve Durfor said Tuesday that investigators conducted more than 60 interviews in the three years after the girls' bodies were found, but found no leads in the case. DNA technology didn't exist at the time, but he credited investigators then for meticulously preserving the evidence until their modern counterparts submitted it as part of a cold-case review.
The cousins' DNA was available for comparison, Durfor said, because both have since served prison sentences that allowed their DNA to be collected. Harbour had drug offences in 1997 and 2003, and Patterson was convicted in 1980 of raping two adult women in Chico in 1976, also in northern California. Patterson also had a 2006 arrest for failing to register as a sex offender, Durfor said.
The county public defender was appointed Wednesday to represent Harbour. Public Defender Brian Davis declined to comment Wednesday.
Associated Press writer Tim Talley contributed from Oklahoma City.
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