LARGO — A man arrested last year and charged with murdering an elderly woman in 1976 pleaded guilty Thursday morning and was sentenced to life in prison.
St. Petersburg police arrested Alphonso Austin, 59, last year after DNA matched him to the September 1976 murder of Mary Jane Barth. The 85-year-old retiree was found facedown inside the Greenwood Cemetery. She had been raped and stabbed 27 times.
The case went unsolved for 31 years until an investigator submitted evidence from the case to the state's crime lab. DNA taken from semen found on Barth's clothing was matched to Austin, who has previous arrests for rape, child molestation and burglary.
Police arrested Austin at an apartment where he was living in the Panhandle. He also made incriminating statements about the murder of Ester Greene, a 67-year-old woman who was stabbed to death in the Jordan Park housing complex just four months before Barth was killed.
Police tried to link Austin to that murder with DNA, but the physical evidence in that case was too degraded, said police Lt. Mike Kovacsev.
Since being arrested, Austin has written letters admitting to murdering Barth and saying he wanted to be sentenced. Because the crime occurred before parole was eliminated as an option for people convicted of first-degree murder, Austin will be eligible for parole when he is 84 years old.
Though Barth has no surviving family members, Greene does. They attended the sentencing hearing Wednesday morning to represent both women. Greene's granddaughter, Kimberly Greene, said she believes Austin killed both women and is pleased Austin is off to prison.
"I'm relieved. My family is relieved," said Greene, 42, of St. Petersburg. "It pretty much brings closure. It's just sad that Mrs. Barth's relatives couldn't see that. We wanted to be there for her family, too."