By ROXANA HEGEMAN, Associated Press
GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) — Jurors convicted a central Kansas man of capital murder on Friday in the killing of a 14-year-old cheerleader whose charred body was found at the asphalt plant where the he worked.
Adam Longoria, 38, stood and stared straight at jurors, wearing a blank expression as the judge polled each of them to confirm the decision. The jury had deliberated less than four hours after closing arguments capped six days of testimony about the August 2010 killing of Alicia Debolt.
Prosecutors aren't seeking the death penalty, but a capital murder conviction carries a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Sentencing is June 8.
Alicia was last seen alive when she left her home in Great Bend for a party just before midnight on Aug. 21, 2010. Her family reported her missing the next day, setting off a search that ended three days later when her remains, with traces of duct tape on her ankles and face, were found at the Venture Corp. plant.
Alicia's remains were so badly burned that the coroner had to rely on dental records to identify her. Investigators later found a barrage of text messages between Alicia and the then-36-year-old Longoria, who began pursuing the girl after meeting her at a party in July 2010.
Family members clutched tissues and cried as the verdicts were read, and later released a statement saying the day marked justice for Alicia. The family also urged parents to talk to their children even if they got pushback and told teenagers to be wary of adults seeking their friendships, warning: "It may feel good to have the attention but ask yourself, 'Why would someone much older than me not want to spend time with people their own age?'"
Defense attorneys left the courthouse through a back door, avoiding reporters. Prosecutor Kevin O'Connor told reporters that the evidence against Longoria "was overwhelming."
During his closing argument earlier Friday, O'Connor reminded jurors of the age disparity and noted the hundreds of text messages that Longoria exchanged with Alicia, underlining the man's obsession with the teen. Some of those messages showed that he picked her up the night she disappeared and that she thought she was going to a party.
The prosecutor noted Longoria's semen was found mixed with Alicia's DNA in his vehicle. To find Longoria guilty of capital murder, jurors had to determine he committed criminal sodomy, aggravated criminal sodomy or attempted rape during the killing. Jurors decided he committed all three, and also found him guilty of vehicle burglary and theft.
Other evidence indicating Longoria was involved in Alicia's grisly death included gasoline on his gym shoes and video surveillance showing him buying $1.32 of gas on the night she disappeared. His ex-girlfriend testified that he smelled of gasoline when he came home and that her car reeked of it the next morning. Other witnesses testified that Longoria asked them to lie about his whereabouts that night.
O'Connor also pointed to the destruction of evidence: Alicia's body was burned so badly it was impossible to determine if she was sexually assaulted; Longoria's ex-girlfriend testified that he washed his clothes when he came home that night, and later shredded his T-shirt and asked her to dispose of it.
Defense attorney Jeff Wicks said text messages indicated Alicia was in a sexual relationship with another boy and suggested that boy or someone else could have killed her. He said Longoria had bragged about having sex with Alicia, meaning her DNA could have ended up in his car on another occasion. And DNA from an unknown male was found in the girl's mouth.
O'Connor said text messages sent from Longoria's phone did not indicate he had "accomplished his goal, his conquest of a 14-year-old," and he derided Wicks' efforts to portray someone else as a possible killer.
"It is his fault," O'Connor said, pointing to the defendant. "And the evidence establishes that."
Jurors were allowed to consider lesser charges such as first-degree murder and second-degree murder.
In their statement following the trial, Alicia's family said the journey since her death has "tested our faith, tested our bonds and it tested our strength. ... In the end, we stand strong as a family knowing that today, there is justice for Alicia."
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