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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Adam Longoria found guilty of capital murder in killing of 14-year-old

By Tim Potter
The Wichita Eagle

It was silent, and tension showed on the faces of Alicia DeBolt’s family as they waited for jurors to walk back into the courtroom and give their verdict in Adam Longoria’s capital murder trial.

She was a 14-year-old girl who never got to start her freshman year of high school. In August 2010, she disappeared after getting into an SUV outside her Great Bend home, apparently thinking she was going to a party. Workers found her badly burned body, her face covered in duct tape, at a secluded asphalt plant where Longoria had worked. Day after day since last week, her family filled three rows reserved for them in the courtroom so they could hear the testimony.

They wanted justice. Friday afternoon, they got it.

After deliberating about 3 and a half hours, the jury found Longoria guilty of everything he had been charged with in Alicia’s death: capital murder and all three underlying sex crimes alleged: two forms of sodomy and attempted rape. They also found him guilty of breaking into and stealing his employer’s truck in what prosecutors said was his attempt to flee when investigators focused on him.

With the capital murder conviction, Longoria, 38, faces life in prison without parole. His sentencing will be June 8. Although he could have faced the death penalty, prosecutors had chosen not to pursue it because of legal issues, and Alicia’s family supported the decision.

Right after the verdict was read, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Bauch briefly turned to make eye contact with Alicia’s family. Bauch smiled respectfully.

Alicia’s older sister embraced Great Bend police Detective Heather Smith, one of the investigators.

The family had shown little emotion during the trial. With the verdict, they openly cried.

Later, they stood together holding hands outside the courthouse as they had a statement read for them. They said their faith and strength had been tested, but, “In the end, we stand strong as a family knowing that today, there is justice for Alicia.” They want people to know not just what happened to Alicia but who she was: “a bright, beautiful burst of energy. … She loved all things teenagers love — texting, shopping, cheerleading, and boys. … We miss her voice, her laugh, and yes, even her messes.

“There are lessons that we have learned from Alicia that we want to share. Parents, talk to your kids even when they don’t want to talk to you … and always pay attention to the people they are spending time with. Teenagers, listen to your parents. … Be careful of older people who want to be your friend.”

Kevin O’Connor, the special assistant attorney general who made a passionate argument to jurors earlier Friday, telling them they had heard overwhelming evidence proving Longoria guilty, said any happiness with the guilty verdict was qualified.

“It doesn’t bring her back, but it brings Adam Longoria to justice.”

In closing arguments, O’Connor told the jurors they had plenty of “damning” evidence against Longoria, including text messages, DNA, destruction of evidence and his attempts to create an alibi.

O’Connor told jurors they had to consider the evidence as a whole: the badly burned body of the girl left in the mud at an asphalt plant, text messages from Longoria, then 36, in which he called Alicia “hot stuff,” his girlfriend’s statements that he and the vehicle he used came back smelling of gasoline, that he washed his clothes and got rid of them, that he bought half a gallon of gasoline a little over an hour after Alicia disappeared, his and her DNA in semen on the driver’s floor mat of the SUV he used that night. Finally, O’Connor said, Longoria tried to create an alibi and fled in a stolen truck.

O’Connor asked the jurors to use their common sense.

Melted duct tape found across her face and on her ankle showed intent to commit the crime, he said. “At some point, this little girl was restrained.”

It’s not easy to burn a body, so Longoria got more fuel, he said. “Is he buying that gas to fill up the lawn mower the next day? Do you really believe that?”

About destruction of evidence by the burning, O’Connor said: “What part of her body is destroyed? The genital area.”

He noted evidence that Longoria cleaned his shoes later that night to the point of soaking his shoelaces in bleach. “Is that just a coincidence?”

About the alibi attempt, he said, Longoria told a lot of people to tell police he was at a certain bar that night, when he was never there.

The semen stain was consistent with a sodomy involving oral sex that Alicia was forced into, he said.

Alicia thought Longoria was taking her to a party with others, he said.

“She’s a teenager. And maybe this little girl was trying to be older than she was. But he’s a lot older than she was.”

Defense attorney Jeff Wicks pointed the finger at other men he said should have been suspects.

When he got his turn to defend Longoria to the jurors, he noted evidence in a number of text messages showing Alicia was involved with another man, that they had exchanged sexually suggestive texts and that their relationship was deteriorating.

Although Longoria sent texts to Alicia asking for her picture, “just asking for pictures is not evidence of murder,” Wicks said.

“This is a terrible case” and people have a right to be angry, but that shouldn’t affect the jury’s decision, he said.

No one saw Longoria’s SUV at the asphalt plant, but witnesses did see other vehicles leaving a road that leads to the plant, he said.

Wicks noted that investigators couldn’t find any blood or accelerants in Longoria’s SUV.

The semen stain, Wicks said, could be explained by Longoria telling someone that he had previously had sex with Alicia after meeting her at a party about a month before she disappeared.

Wicks seized on evidence showing that unknown male DNA found in Alicia’s mouth was not from Longoria. Later, O’Connor would say that the DNA in her mouth was a minute amount and it could have come from contamination during the processing of her body.

It would only compound the tragedy of Alicia’s killing to convict the wrong man, Wicks said.

O’Connor, who got to go last, told the jury, “You do not compound the tragedy by convicting the person who’s responsible for the crimes.”

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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