SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California prosecutor said Wednesday that two men charged with murder in the shotgun slayings of two young girls 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 Wednesday at his arraignment in California, said Deputy District Attorney John Vacek. 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, officials said.
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.
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.
The case went cold decades ago, Yuba County authorities said, until a state forensics lab matched DNA from the two suspects to semen found on Derryberry.
“It’s just like it reopened — it’s like it just happened again. And it’s really, really hard,” Margrette Hasting, the mother of Valerie Janice Lane, said after the arraignment.
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 the defendants won’t face the possibility of execution if convicted, 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.”
The most the men could face is a life sentence, and the law then provided that they could be considered for parole after serving seven years, McGrath said. The death penalty wasn’t reinstated in California until 1977.
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.
Harbour was set for his next court appearance on Oct. 19, when Vacek said prosecutors hope to have both men back in Yuba County. Public Defender Brian Davis was appointed Wednesday to represent Harbour and declined comment.
Investigators in the 1970s carefully noted each of the more than 60 people they interviewed, Vacek said, and the suspects’ names never came up.
They later considered Patterson after he was charged in 1976 with raping two women in nearby Chico, Vacek said, but found no link to the killing of the two girls until the DNA match decades later.
Detectives at the time “had done pretty much a bangup job in doing a thorough investigation,” Vacek said. “To not have run across these guys is a little surprising, I guess … We’re reasonably confident there was nothing to connect them to the crimes at the time.”
Associated Press writer Tim Talley contributed from Oklahoma City.