FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — An Arizona man is set for trial Monday on capital murder charges in the death of a high school classmate in Texas nearly three decades ago.
Ryland Absalon, now 45, was a neighbor of Ginger Hayden, whose body was found Sept. 5, 1984, at her apartment. A police cold case squad investigation led to Absalon, who was 17 at the time of the killing. He and Hayden, 18, both had attended Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth.
Hayden was stabbed 57 times. The knife used to kill her broke during the fury of the attack.
“He’s maintained his innocence since 1984 and he has not wavered in that,” defense attorney Gary Udashen told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in a story published Sunday.
Court records show Absalon originally was among suspects in the slaying, that his DNA was found at the crime scene and that he confessed in counseling two years after the slaying.
However, records also show some material evidence is now missing or badly deteriorated, one officer who investigated the case has died and another detective has a “memory disorder” and can’t testify.
“None of us wants her to be forgotten,” said Angela Houk Walker, a high school friend of Hayden. “We have spent the last (28) years waiting for someone to be held accountable for her murder.
“Ginger didn’t deserve to die the way she did.”
Two years after the killing and unknown to investigators, Absalon confessed while undergoing treatment in a now-closed drug and alcohol treatment program. Participants were under orders to not talk about admissions made in group therapy.
Testimony Friday at a pretrial hearing on whether those admissions should be disclosed to jurors indicated no one contacted authorities until news of Absalon’s arrest surfaced in 2010. Defense lawyers want the statement withheld, saying Absalon felt pressured in the program and falsely confessed because he believed in the order to keep the admission confidential. A ruling on the request was expected Monday as jury selection was to begin.
Advances in technology led to the discovery of Absalon’s DNA on a towel in Hayden’s bathroom and a sock that contained her blood. Absalon, married with a preschool child, was arrested in 2010 at his home in Sierra Vista, Ariz. Defense lawyers are challenging the DNA findings.
Court documents from both sides point to Absalon as having anger management and addiction issues and a propensity toward violence. One witness told authorities that Hayden had refused his sexual advances.
Conviction on the charge could get him up to life in prison.
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