A New York man accused in the 1975 cold case killing of a U.S. Navy dental technician in San Diego entered a not guilty plea in an East Coast courtroom Monday.
WNYT-TV reporter Dan Levy caught a glimpse of Dennis Lepage, 62, as he appeared at his extradition hearing in Rensselaer County Court in Troy, New York. Lepage used a cane to prop himself up as he stood next to his attorney.
Lepage pleaded not guilty to being a fugitive from justice in connection with the decades-old killing of Alvaro Espeleta, 28, NBC affiliate WNYT-TV confirmed.
He will remain in jail in Rensselaer County until an extradition warrant from Governor Gavin Newsom is sent to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and signed by Cuomo.
San Diego’s Unsolved Cold Cases
The 1975 Cold Case
On Dec. 31, 1975, Espeleta – a dental technician with the U.S. Navy assigned to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot – was found dead in his home on Reynard Way in San Diego’s Middletown community. He had been beaten, bludgeoned and strangled.
When Espeleta didn’t show up for work, two of his co-workers grew worried. They went to Espeleta’s house to check on him and discovered a grisly murder scene.
Investigators searched for the victim’s killer, exhausting lead after lead. Over the years, the case turned cold.
A Big Break & Lepage's Arrest
Forty-four years after Espeleta’s killing, investigators announced a major break in the case: “emerging forensic sciences and technology,” plus good old-fashioned police work and agency collaboration had led them to a suspect.
That suspect was Lepage.
Lepage was arrested once again at his apartment in Troy, New York, but this time he was charged with murder in connection to the cold case.
He was 18 years old when he committed the alleged murder.
Investigators didn't not detail the relationship between Espeleta and Lepage, but an NCIS official confirmed Lepage was once an active duty Navy Sailor stationed in San Diego.
Last week, the San Diego Police Department said the case had been turned over to the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, and the department could not comment any further.
San Diego police said several law enforcement agencies had a hand in the investigation into the 1975 cold case, including the NCIS, FBI, San Diego County DA's Office, San Diego County Sheriff's Department, New York State Police, Albany County Sheriff's Department, and others.
NBC 7 will be keeping an eye on Lepage’s extradition to San Diego. We will bring you updates on that as soon as we have details.