A New Mexico man was convicted Tuesday of raping and killing a 79-year-old woman more than four decades ago in a cold case that was cracked with DNA evidence from the crime scene at an Anaheim apartment.
Andre Lepere, 64, was convicted of first-degree murder with a sentencing enhancement because the crime was committed during a rape. He could face life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced next month.
The case is one of Anaheim's oldest cold-case murder prosecutions.
Lepere was 22 years old and living in Southern California in 1980 when a neighbor of Viola Hagenkord discovered her body in her Anaheim apartment bedroom. There were signs of a struggle, authorities said.
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Hagenkord had been sexually assaulted, had broken ribs and was gagged with a pillowcase that caused her to asphyxiate, prosecutors said.
Semen was collected in a rape kit, but DNA testing was in its infancy. The case went cold but last year, the evidence was reexamined and advanced testing last year tied Lepere to the DNA.
He sometimes stayed with his sister at the Pebble Cove Apartments in Anaheim. Hagenkord lived a few units away. Neighbors were concerned when they hadn’t seen Hagenkord, well known throughout the complex, for two days.
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At his trial, Lepere testified that he had consensual sex with Hagenkord and denied attacking her — a claim that the prosecutor called ridiculous.
Asked about the DNA evidence in court, Lepere did not dispute that it was his, but he denied raping or killing Hagenkord. Testifying in his own defense, he said she was alive when he left the residence.
“I was 22,” Lepere said, the Los Angeles Times reported. “I had lots of women that used to take a shine to me.”
Deputy District Attorney Christopher Alex told jurors that Hagenkord, who was born in 1900, swore off men after divorcing her husband before the Great Depression, the Orange County Register reported.
He called Lepere's claim that someone else attacked Hagenkord and left not detectable DNA of his own "ridiculous."
"The most incredible string of coincidences that could ever befall an innocent man,” Alex said.
Lepere later left California and lived in several places, including Washington, Wyoming and Arizona, before he was arrested last year in New Mexico.