Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Four decades after murder, inmate brought from Illinois for trial

Gina Justi, 14, was killed in 1971.

Gina Justi, 14, was killed in 1971.

Even for a cold case, the killing of Gina Marie Justi is an old one.

More than 40 years have passed since the 14-year-old girl was abducted somewhere near her house in the Town 'N Country area of Hillsborough County. Her body was found the next day in a Palm Harbor orange grove.

She had been raped and strangled. For decades, her killer remained a mystery.

Now, a 71-year-old Illinois prison inmate has been transferred to Pinellas County to face a charge of first-degree murder in Gina's death.

Even though Jerry Fletcher had no chance of getting out of prison for a murder there, it's important to prosecute, said Assistant State Attorney William Loughery.

"The citizens and her family and friends deserve some resolution," Loughery said."

Pinellas sheriff's detectives announced in 2011 that they considered Fletcher the teen's killer.

Gina vanished after leaving her house on Aug. 6, 1971, possibly to visit a friend or to see a man who was giving away puppies.

Police interviewed possible suspects, but the case remained unsolved until the advent of DNA technology. After some unsuccessful attempts, detectives submitted evidence to Pinellas County's Forensic Lab for testing in 2010 and obtained what they say was a complete DNA profile of the man who raped the teenager.

That information led detectives to Fletcher, a man who had not previously been a suspect. His history intrigued detectives.

For one thing, he had lived in Tampa at the time of the crime. He was 29 and worked as an industrial painter.

Also, shortly after the local slaying, a 16-year-old Tampa teenager told police that Fletcher had kidnapped her at knifepoint as she left a bathroom at a Dale Mabry restaurant. He was acquitted in that case.

Then, two years later in Illinois, Fletcher was convicted of murder and indecent liberties with a child in a case that is similar to the killing in Pinellas — and he has been imprisoned since then.

He abducted a 13-year-old from a babysitting job in Sparland, Ill., and her body was found in a cemetery. Like Gina, she had been raped, beaten and strangled with a sash. He is serving a more than 100-year sentence.

A Pinellas County grand jury indicted Fletcher in 2011.

The date of his local trial has not been set.

Times staff writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at or (727) 893-8232. Follow him on Twitter at @ckruegertimes.

Four decades after murder, inmate brought from Illinois for trial 04/22/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 22, 2013 11:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Editorial: A proud moment for civic involvement in Hillsborough County


    It took private citizens less than 24 hours to do what their elected leaders in Hillsborough County could not for the past three months: Find the moral fortitude and the money to move a century-old Confederate war memorial from outside the county courthouse. Thursday's achievement was a lesson in leadership to county …

    The Hillsborough County Commission dithered for three months over moving the Memoria in Aeterna monument from the old county courthouse.
  2. Fort Myers woman arrested for doing cocaine off iPhone in parent pick-up line

    Bizarre News

    A Fort Myers woman was arrested Tuesday after police saw her snorting cocaine off her iPhone while in the parent pick-up line at a Lee County middle school.

    Christina Hester, 39, faces two different drug-related charges, according to police records. [Lee County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Tropical Storm Harvey forms in Atlantic


    UPDATE: At 5 p.m. the National Hurricane Center said a hurricane hunter plane had determined that Tropical Storm Harvey had formed with sustained winds of 40 mph.

    Three tropical waves are expected to strengthen as they move across the Atlantic Ocean. [Courtesy of the National Hurricane Center]
  4. Editorial: Pinellas should join lawsuit challenging new state law


    The Florida Legislature has been on a cynical, constitutionally dubious quest to render local school boards powerless. The most direct assault is a new state law that strips school boards of much of their authority when it comes to the creation and funding of charter schools. It's time for the Pinellas County School …

  5. Editorial: Fix funding unfairness in Florida foster care system


    Many of the children in Florida's foster care system already have been failed by their parents. The last thing these kids need is to be failed by bureaucracy, too, and yet that's exactly what appears to be happening because of a needlessly rigid funding formula set up by the Florida Legislature. Child welfare agencies …

    The Legislature may have had good intentions when it came up with the funding plan, but it’s obvious that there is some unfairness built into it. The funding may be complicated, but the goal is simple: Making sure every child in need gets the help he or she needs.