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Three-decade-old murder case goes to trial

NEW PORT RICHEY — All that remains of Amy Rose Hurst is a femur and a jawbone.

In a Pasco courtroom on Tuesday, Assistant State Attorney Chris Sprowls held up the femur in a clear plastic bag as he interviewed FBI forensic DNA examiner Patricia Aagaard.

"Do you recognize this?" Sprowls asked.

"I do."

That bone, which remained after Amy Rose Hurst was cremated, was key to identifying her after nearly three decades and, as such, critical to authorities charging her husband, William Hurst, with murder. His trial will continue today.

Amy Rose Hurst, a 29-year-old mother of two, disappeared from her New Port Richey home in August 1982. Her body was found in the Gulf of Mexico the next month, wrapped in an afghan and a bedspread. A rope was tied around her waist and attached to a concrete block.

Prosecutors called Aagaard as an expert witness and she related the intricacies of DNA testing. She explained how she got a DNA sample from the bone by grinding a small piece of it into a fine powder. She tested it against a cheek swab from Jeff Earley, Amy Hurst's son, who was 9 when she disappeared, and it matched.

Sprowls showed the bone to the jury before putting it with other evidence — the afghan and the blanket, and photos of a decomposed body.

In his opening arguments, Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis likened the case to the contents of a book.

"Just like every good book has a title," he said, "this story has a title, and the title is 'I almost got away with it.' "

He pointed to William Hurst, 61, multiple times and said, "This defendant did kill Amy Hurst."

Halkitis talked about the evidence, how a fishing boat crew found the body off Anna Maria Island and alerted authorities. He said the body had floated to the surface like a balloon even though it was weighted down. He said Amy Rose had gashes in the back of her head.

After authorities were able to put a name to the body in July 2011, they set out to find Hurst, who lived in Kentucky. They had his friend, Candis Spinks, wear a recording device. Halkitis said she will testify about that conversation, in which Hurst admitted disposing of a body. Hurst told her he got into an argument with his wife and she kicked at him, fell and hit her head, Halkitis said, adding that Hurst told Spinks that he stayed with the body in bed because he didn't know what to do with it.

Assistant Public Defender Dean Livermore said his client did not commit murder, and the death was an accident.

"The only evidence you will hear today is that she died accidentally," Livermore said, "and that is not murder."

Most witnesses called by the state on the opening day of the trial were there to show certainties — that the body found all those years ago was in fact Amy Hurst, and the means by which she was identified.

She was the youngest of five girls, and they were a tight-knit group, Halkitis said. Those women, along with one of Amy Rose's two children, also testified. Sharon Nijhof said her sister was a small woman, 5 feet tall and 100 pounds.

Earley said he recalled sitting in the back seat of a car when William Hurst backhanded her and busted her lip. He remembered her black eyes and bruises, how Hurst once threw Amy down some stairs. He hit her with an iron skillet, Earley testified.

The state also called District 12 chief medical examiner Dr. Russell S. Vega. He described three contusions on Amy's head. Vega testified that he didn't think those injuries could have been sustained from a fall. He concluded that Amy Hurst's death was indeed a homicide.

Contact Jon Silman at (727) 869-6229 or jsilman@tampabay.com.

Three-decade-old murder case goes to trial 04/02/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 10:10pm]

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