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Mont. Inmate Charged in 2000 Ark. Slaying

May 12, 2006

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ A Montana inmate was charged with murder after DNA evidence linked him to the slaying of a woman at an Arkansas rest stop nearly six years ago, authorities said.

Ronald James Ward, who is currently serving a life sentence for murder, was charged Thursday with first-degree murder in the death of Kristin Laurite, 25, of Scotch Plains, N.J.

``There can never be closure; however, the arrest of this suspected serial killer does bring me and my family some sense of resolution and peace of mind,″ Laurite’s mother, Lynn DiBenedetto, said in a statement Friday.

Laurite’s nude body was found Aug. 25, 2000, at a rest stop east of Morrilton where a trucker had been slain 3 1/2 years earlier. The rest area has since been closed by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

Investigators say Laurite was driving to California when she pulled in to the rest stop, presumably to exercise her dogs. Her body was found the next day at an isolated pond about 300 yards behind the rest stop.

Ward, 39, is serving a sentence of life plus 10 years for the murder of a man in southwestern Montana about two months after Laurite’s death. Authorities said he also has been linked to at least two other homicides, both women killed in California.

In 2002, investigators discovered that DNA left at the Laurite crime scene matched DNA left at a Merced, Calif., home where a woman was killed several months after Laurite’s murder. However, authorities did not learn Ward’s identity until last summer when the DNA was matched to Ward, who was in prison.

Although Ward is serving a life sentence for the Montana murder, Prosecutor Tom Tatum Jr. said he still plans to bring the Laurite case to trial in Arkansas.

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