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Fingerprints Bring Murder Case to Trial 30 Years Later

June 1, 1993

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ She was beaten with a claw hammer and strangled with a silk stocking, probably by an intruder who left a trail of fingerprints behind.

Policeman Arnold Sauro thought the case would be solved quickly. ″We got this guy - dead bang,″ he recalls telling his partner at the time.

But Sauro was wrong. There turned out to be no fingerprint match in the 1963 killing of Thora Rose and there wouldn’t be for 27 years, when a random computer check uncovered a suspect.

Vernon Robinson, 48, goes on trial in July accused of killing the waitress. The 35 fingerprints left behind in her Hollywood apartment on Oct. 3, 1963, will be the key evidence.

Sauro, an investigator who retired from police work 15 years ago, is set to testify.

There were matching prints for all five fingers of someone’s right hand and four from the left.

No fingerprints in Los Angeles County files matched. A sergeant went to Sacramento for two weeks to check through 30,000 prints in state files, but again no match was found.

Robinson had his fingerprints taken when he entered a state prison in 1970 to serve a term for robbery and assault. Released in 1973, he had no further scrapes with the law, built a career and raised three children.

When he was arrested, Robinson was living in a riverfront apartment in Minneapolis, where he worked as a $70,000-a-year executive for a building maintenance firm.

Robinson, who was an 18-year-old Navy training center recruit in San Diego in 1963, denies knowing anything about the killing. On the night of the slaying, he said, he was quarantined with other sailors and could not leave the base.

Aside from the fingerprints, attorneys in the case have had little luck in locating evidence and possible witnesses. According to Monday’s Los Angeles Times, attorneys have found that:

- Navy records from October 1963 that would deal with Robinson’s whereabouts are incomplete.

- The initial police report said a single hair was found on the stocking wrapped around Ms. Rose’s neck. The hair has disappeared from police evidence vaults. Also missing is a man’s business card found inside the victim’s purse.

- Only six people on a list of 30 of Ms. Rose’s friends, neighbors and co- workers have been located. Five have died and the rest have disappeared, said defense attorney Bruce Cormicle.

The prosecution has found no motive, no murder weapon and no witnesses. The case will turn on the fingerprints and Cormicle will challenge that evidence. Although a fingerprint expert in 1991 picked out Robinson’s as an exact match, the defense lawyer said there is the possibility of human error.

Update hourly