People v. Ricardo Villa (Murder)
1993 murder case solved with aid of DNA—killer receives death penalty
Victim Beatrice Bellis, age 87, was deaf and functionally mute. She lived at the Mar Vista apartment complex, an elder care facility located in Port Hueneme, California. In June 1993, an unknown assailant slipped into her unlocked apartment, stabbed her repeatedly with a large kitchen knife, and raped her as she bled to death. The perpetrator cleaned up in the bathroom then fled from the building in the dead of night. Despite an intense investigation and neighborhood canvass, the Port Hueneme Police Department was initially unable to develop evidence leading to a culpable suspect.
A Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Crime Laboratory forensic examiner isolated six suspect pubic hairs from evidence derived from the victim’s bathroom and bedding. A root from one of the hairs produced a DNA profile that failed to yield a match within any known database. Without a viable suspect, the donor of the hair remained a mystery and the case went cold.
In 2003, as DNA technology evolved, a dedicated crime laboratory analyst was able to compare the suspect’s DNA profile with samples seized from various persons of interest obtained in the 10 years since the killing. This effort led to a match between Villa’s DNA profile and the nuclear DNA of a single pubic hair found on the bathroom rug. Additional mitochondrial DNA analysis revealed that five pubic hairs from the victim’s bed and bathroom shared Villa’s mitochondrial DNA profile. Villa, who turned 18 a month before the murder, was a part-time janitor who occasionally worked at various city-owned properties, including the victim’s apartment complex.
At the conclusion of the trial, the jury convicted Villa of first-degree murder committed in the course of rape and burglary. On August 16, 2011, Villa was sentenced to death and remains in prison where he will await execution pending the outcome of his automatic appeal.