In 1989, Carla Leigh Salazar, a 35-year-old trans woman, was stabbed to death in her Santa Ana, Calif., apartment. Police investigated but did not identify a suspect at the time, and the case remained unsolved, like so many murders of trans women in the U.S.
But this month, Salazar and her loved ones may see some unexpected justice. Police have finally been able to link a suspect to Salazar's murder by assessing DNA evidence with new technolgy, reports The Orange County Register.
On December 9, officials detained 63-year-old Douglas Gutridge and charged him with Salazar's murder. Gutridge, who was an acquaintance of Salazar's and may have been the last person to see her alive, had long been suspected of the crime by police, notes the Register.
Gutridge had been contacted once by police 18 years after the murder, when officials received lab evidence that indicated an unidentified male had been in the victim's apartment at the time of her death. Gutridge volunteered a DNA sample in 2009, but the evidence was not enough to detain him at the time.
Five years later, Gutridge's arrest was made possible by advances in forensics — which were able to both place Gutridge inside Salazar's apartment and show the placement of his hands on her body — and through the work from a new Orange County Cold Case Homicide Task Force, established to address the area's more than 1,000 cold cases. Salazar's case was at the top of the task force's list and is the team's first arrest, officials told the Register.
Salazar's family and friends told reporters they never expected to see Salazar's murder solved.
"She deserved justice, she didn't deserve to die," said Christine McFadden, a friend who referred to Salazar as her "sister." "She was the total essence of love and compassion and friendship. She didn't have a mean bone in her body. ... When I got that call from detectives, hope came into my heart. But I won't be completely at peace until he's put away."
"It's a relief," Salazar's former husband, Robert Dougherty, said of Gutridge's arrest. "I want other families to be able to feel that too."
Gutridge is currently being held on $1 million bail and faces a maximum of 25 years to life in state prison, according to Los Angeles TV station KNBC. His arraignment is scheduled for January 2.