By Associated Press - Wednesday, December 9, 2020

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - New DNA evidence has identified a former hospital maintenance worker as the prime suspect in a previously unsolved 1999 rape and killing of a woman in Colorado.

Authorities believe Ricky Severt is the man who was responsible for the killing of Jennifer Watkins, The Gazette reported Wednesday. DNA testing from Severt’s surviving relatives found that Watkins’ likely killer had more than a 99.99% chance of being a member of the suspect’s family. Severt’s work schedule placed him at the hospital on the day she disappeared.

Prosecutors completed their investigation into the new evidence this month and said they were “confident” the person responsible for Watkins’ death was Severt.

Severt was killed in a car crash in 2001, which has rendered the homicide case now officially closed.

“Though we cannot prosecute Mr. Severt for the crime he committed, we can at least provide answers to Jennifer’s loved ones,” the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Watkins was found dead in November 1999 at the Memorial Center Hospital in Colorado Springs, where she was an employee in the kitchen staff. Two repair workers found her under a stairwell at the hospital days after her husband and mother reported her as missing.

Then-El Paso County Coroner Dr. David Bowerman ruled that Watkins had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death.

Law enforcement interviewed everyone Watkins knew and worked with, including Severt, but none of their questioning led to an identifiable suspect. Watkins’ husband, Michael, was considered an “early potential suspect” but was later ruled out.

In 2017, after years of designating it a cold case, detectives asked for help from Parabon Labs, a DNA technology company. Police wanted Parabon Labs to examine DNA samples collected from Watkins’ body and clothes during the initial investigation.

A DNA hit led to suspicions that Severt could have been involved in the killing.

Severt was an employee at the hospital working on its maintenance team at the time of Watkins’ disappearance. When questioned, he had told police he had never seen Watkins before.

Police said they were attempting to locate Severt as part of their investigation when they learned of his death in a car crash.

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