- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Lawyers for a man convicted of killing an 18-year-old New Hampshire woman more than four decades ago asked a judge Tuesday to grant him a new trial based on DNA evidence, but prosecutors said the case against him remains strong.

Robert Breest, 77, claims he was wrongly convicted of beating Susan Randall to death and tossing her partially nude body onto the frozen Merrimack River in Concord in February 1971. He has twice been denied parole because he refuses to admit to the crime and take part in sex offender treatment. Instead, he has tried to clear his name through DNA testing as technology and collection methods improved.

Courts have rejected Breest’s appeals, but in December, the state Supreme Court ordered a hearing on whether he deserves a new trial based on a 2012 test that revealed a second male source of DNA in scrapings taken from under Randall’s fingernails.

“Those results, which suggest strongly that Ms. Randall had a violent struggle with at least two men before she died, are completely inconsistent with the state’s theory of the case. They’re inconsistent with all the evidence presented at trial and they’re inconsistent, most importantly, with the testimony of the state’s lynchpin witness - a jailhouse snitch who testified that Mr. Breest confessed to him,” defense attorney Ian Dumain said as the hearing got underway Tuesday in Merrimack County Superior Court.

Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Woodcock argued that neither the most recent DNA tests nor previous results exclude Breest as the killer. She suggested that the second source of DNA could have been the result of “casual contact” between Randall and someone else, or due to contamination during the testing process.

Woodcock also suggested the DNA had become degraded over time, and compared the case to the paintings of Georges Seurat, who pioneered the technique of pointillism with paintings composed of tiny dots of color.

“If you walk up to the painting and stand closer and closer, you don’t see the big picture,” she said. “The big picture is that Ms. Randall was brutally murdered in 1971, Robert Breest was given a fair trial in 1973, his conviction was affirmed. His conviction was reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals in 1980,” which found that the evidence against Breest was strong.

She said the new DNA results, coupled with the evidence at trial, would not be enough to persuade a juror to vote to acquit Breest.

“(The evidence) was strong in 1973. There were very good reasons jurors convicted Robert Breest. It remains strong today,” she said.

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