NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A DNA test led to the arrest of a New York man in a 1986 killing, months after an innocent man who spent 20 years in prison for the crime was exonerated by DNA.
New York police took 45-year-old Kevin Benefield, of the Bronx, into custody Tuesday on a warrant issued by Wallingford police in connection with the slaying of Barbara Pelkey.
Investigators took a sample of Benefield's saliva in 1986 and recently submitted it to the state police forensic lab, according to an arrest affidavit obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. Tests matched the sample to DNA found on the victim.
If Benefield waives extradition, he will be brought back to Connecticut and arraigned on charges of murder and sexual assault. Benefield appeared in court Wednesday and his case was continued until Jan. 5, said Steven Reed, spokesman for the Bronx district attorney's office.
Barbara Ray, Benefield's mother, said she was not sure if her son had an attorney. She said he has two grown children and did various jobs, most recently working as a messenger.
"I don't believe he had anything to do with that," Ray told the AP on Tuesday. "That's just not Kevin. He's not a violent person."
The man previously convicted in Pelkey's death, Kenneth Ireland, was freed in August when DNA tests proved his innocence. Ireland's attorney said he would not comment on Benefield's arrest.
"I'm glad that they found out who did this to her," Sandra Morton, Pelkey's sister, said Wednesday. "Now we have to relive it and go through another trial. It's like a roller coaster. We thought it was over for a while."
Pelkey's nude body was found at the former R.S. Moulding and Manufacturing Co. in Wallingford where she worked alone at night. Benefield worked at catering and car businesses that were located in the same building. An autopsy determined she died from multiple blows to the head.
At the time, investigators interviewed people who knew the victim or worked in the area. A saliva sample was taken from Benefield on Sept. 12, 1986, with his written consent, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit says Benefield "cannot be eliminated" as the source of DNA found on the victim and the frequency of people who cannot be eliminated is 1 in 790 million.
Benefield told police in 1986 that he talked to Pelkey, a mother of four, once while she was outside smoking a cigarette. He said he bought her a soda after she said it was hot.
Benefield told investigators on the night of the murder he was with his girlfriend until around midnight and then went out with his cousin drinking at a bar in New Haven until 2 a.m. before heading home alone to his apartment in New Haven, according to the affidavit. But police say Benefield's girlfriend told them he was with her until around 3 a.m., leading Benefield to say she might have mixed up dates.