Judge approves DNA testing for evidence in decades-old murder case

A 29 year-old murder case is being brought back to life after a district judge signed off on DNA testing for one of the only pieces of physical evidence used in that trial.

The convicted killer, Jerry Vernon, has maintained his innocence since the crime in 1989, even after escaping from prison and being caught.

Vernon’s future hinges on a beer can. In the summer of 1989, the businessman was accused of killing fellow businessman Larry Stevens near the Cibola National Forest.

A beer can was found near the scene. Vernon claimed self defense, but was convicted and sentenced to life for the murder. However, he didn’t stay behind bars for long.

In 2001, he escaped the prison in Los Lunas by pretending to be sick and escaping through a fence. 

“He manipulated those conditions to where he appeared to be more sick than he was so he was placed in a less secure area,” said then-New Mexico Corrections Investigator Mike Spunk.

The escape sparked a nationwide manhunt, but Vernon’s run didn’t end until two years later.

“What kept us a little guarded about approaching him was the fact it did not look like the Jerry Vernon we were all aware of,” said then US Marshal Gorden Eden.

He was found hiding out in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

“He was renting an apartment in the basement belonging to an elderly woman,” said Eden.

Since he’s been back behind bars, Vernon has been fighting to prove his innocence, something he’s claimed all along. 

In a new motion filed, Vernon said his previous attorneys didn’t do their due diligence in the trial. The document also claims there was an improper relationship between one of his attorneys and the victim in the case. They also claim the state failed to preserve all the physical evidence prior to the trial.

As for the beer can, Vernon’s new attorney hopes a DNA test will prove more about what happened that night, and show the many cracks in the prosecutor’s case when it was first taken to trial.

KRQE News 13 asked for an interview with the District Attorney, but were told based on this hearing, prosecutors are unable to comment.

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