- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - A man who claims he had sex with an 81-year-old Honolulu woman in 1989 but denies killing her has been convicted of her murder.

A jury found Gerald Austin guilty of second-degree murder Wednesday. Jurors will return to court in March for a hearing to determine if Austin deserves an enhanced sentence of life in prison without possibility for parole because of the victim’s age.

Edith Skinner’s killing remained a cold case until advances in DNA technology helped match evidence found on her body. In 2005, a criminalist re-examining the evidence found an unknown man’s semen, which in 2011 matched a sample from Austin in the Hawaii state DNA database.

Austin’s grandmother lived in Skinner’s Kalakaua Avenue apartment building, Prosecutor Scott Bell said. He was charged with second-degree murder in 2012.

Austin took the stand to say he had sex with a woman in his grandmother’s building but didn’t know whether the woman was Skinner, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

During his opening statement, public defender Edward Aquino said the evidence would show Austin had sexual contact with Skinner but didn’t kill her. Aquino declined to comment after the verdict was announced.

Bell said it’s “reprehensible” Austin would suggest Skinner had consensual sex with a then-29-year-old stranger. “The defendant had to come up with an explanation” for his biological evidence showing up on Skinner’s body, Bell said.

Skinner, who was born in New York City, moved to Hawaii in the 1930s and lived alone in her seventh-floor rent-subsidized apartment, Bell said. The healthy but sometimes forgetful mother of one was found on July 25, 1989, lying on her bed wearing a peach-colored nightgown but no underwear. Despite that, police didn’t immediately recognize signs of foul play, Bell said.

Her son, Stephen Skinner, of Tucson, Ariz., testified for the prosecution. He said he was living in Northern California when his mother was killed and returned to Honolulu as soon as he got word of her death, he said. In her apartment, he noticed that a cross she wore was among the missing items.

In her youth, his mother was a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer, he said. In Honolulu, she retired from managing a store.


Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at https://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .

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