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* Killer Found!!
Posted Jul 23, 2005
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DNA from Morrilton rest area killing matches man in Montana prison
The Associated Press
MORRILTON, Ark. - The DNA in foreign tissue found on the body of a New Jersey woman fatally stabbed at an Interstate 40 rest stop in 2000 matches the DNA of a man serving a life sentence in a Montana prison for murder, investigators say.

Conway County Sheriff Mark Flowers said Thursday that genetic material found on the body of Kristin Laurite matches that of a man already imprisoned in another state.

Little Rock television station KATV identified the man as Ronald James Ward, 38, who is serving a life sentence in Montana for murdering a homeless man in October of 2000. Ward has also been linked to at least two other homicides in California that same year, one involving a homeless woman, the other a disabled woman.

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

Laurite's family put up a billboard along I-40 with her picture, asking motorists if they knew who might have killed her.

Laurite's mother, Lynn DiBenedetto, said Thursday she was pleased to learn of the DNA match, especially since the five-year anniversary of her daughter's death is just a month away.

Investigators discovered in 2002 that DNA left at the Laurite crime scene was a match for DNA left at the Merced, Calif., scene where Jackie Travis, 49, was killed Dec. 7, 2000, but they did not have a name until now.

Flowers declined to say how a match was made between the DNA of the imprisoned man and the DNA found at the two crime scenes.

Conway County Prosecutor Tom Tatum said he could not release any information about the case because he had not been given the file.

Laurite, 25, of Scotch Plains, N.J., would have turned 30 this year. She was traveling to California when she apparently pulled in to the rest stop to exercise her dogs. Her nude body was found the next day at an isolated pond about 300 yards behind the rest stop.

July 22, 2005 6:08 AM

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