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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 ckrueger@tampabay.com 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]
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