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Man arrested, charged in 1992 Florida cold case murder

Ronald Cates, a family friend of John Stagner, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder almost 30 years later.
Credit: Orange County Sheriff's Office
Ronald Cates

ORLANDO, Fla. — A man has been arrested in connection to a 1992 cold case murder after confessing not once but two times, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

During a news conference Wednesday, Sheriff John Mina and members of the sheriff's office's cold case team announced the charging of 64-year-old Ronald Cates with first-degree murder for his friend's death.

The investigation first began on Aug. 10, 1992, when the wife of 53-year-old John Stagner went to wake him up but found him dead with head and facial trauma, Detective Kevin Wilson said.

Law enforcement learned that Cates would borrow tools from Stagner from time to time but never return them. Wilson says Cates would pawn them instead.

After Stagner's death, it wasn't until three years later in 1995 that there was some type of development in the case. Cates reportedly had what authorities called a "suicidal incident," and he allegedly admitted to killing his friend.

But according to Wilson, there was not enough evidence at the time to charge Cates.

Fast forward to 2020, the sheriff's office created a cold case team to try and bring about closure — investigators would conduct more interviews with family members. But in April 2022, Cates once again confessed to the murder, Wilson said. 

He was reportedly in the hospital in North Carolina and asked to speak to someone. Police officers from the Salisbury Police Department were able to get on body camera a confession from Cates of him killing someone in Florida in 1992, the sheriff's office said. 

They looked into his statement and connected the case to the 1992 cold case murder of Stagner.

After the confession, the sheriff's office said they then had enough evidence to interview him again and charge him with murder. It was eventually learned Cates used a walking stick to kill Stagner, which was found at the crime scene and identified by his family as his, Wilson said. 

Cates was arrested on Aug. 5 and is facing a charge of first-degree murder.

"These cases are extremely important to us, we want our community to know that just because the case is a year old, 5 years old or 30 years old, it doesn’t mean we stop investigating the case,” Mina said.

After starting in 2020, the cold case team has solved 13 cases dating back to 1984, the agency stated.

Watch the full press conference below.

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