FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A teenager stabbed his friend to death, confessed two years later while in a drug-treatment program, but wasn't arrested until his DNA was discovered on crime-scene evidence nearly 25 years later, prosecutors told jurors during closing arguments of his murder trial Friday.
Ryland Shane Absalon, 45, faces up to life in prison if convicted of capital murder in Ginger Hayden's 1984 death. Stabbed more than 50 times with a kitchen knife, she was found on the floor beside blood-soaked sheets when her mother went into her room, wondering why her alarm clock kept ringing. It would have been the 18-year-old girl's second day of college.
"Ginger Hayden's family deserves justice. They've been waiting 28 years for this day," prosecutor Jim Hudson told jurors, who began deliberating Friday afternoon.
But defense attorney Gary Udashen said Absalon gave a false confession because he was pressured and abused while at the now-closed treatment center. He reminded jurors that DNA found under Hayden's fingernails, as well as on a quilt and a sock, matched an unknown man. Some of Absalon's DNA was found in her apartment because they were former high school classmates and neighbors who would hang out, he said.
Udashen also said a rash of murders of attractive young women in the mid-1980s in Fort Worth prompted police to form a task force.
"It won't help Ginger or her mother for police to stop looking for her killer," Udashen said, adding that it "does not appear to be the crime of a 17-year-old kid."
Absalon was arrested in 2010 at his home in Sierra Vista, Ariz., where he was working as a welder and living with his wife and young child. A Fort Worth police cold-case unit had re-opened the case, tested evidence and found that some matched his DNA.
News of Absalon's arrest prompted some former participants in the drug-treatment program to tell police about his confession — nearly 30 years after they'd been told that everything said at the center must remain confidential.
One former participant testified that about two years after Hayden's murder, Absalon said in a group therapy session in the drug treatment program that he fatally stabbed a young woman when he was high on heroin.
Prosecutors said Absalon's 1986 confession in the treatment program supported the evidence and included details that only the killer would know: that he took a knife from her kitchen, hid in the closet until she went to sleep and then stabbed her on the bed.
Absalon told another participant that he killed Hayden because he was angry that she only wanted to be friends after he told her that he wanted a romantic relationship, according to testimony. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that a witness testified that Absalon said nobody would find out because he covered it up too well, washing his hands and cleaning up in the bathroom. Prosecutors said he used socks as gloves.
Absalon's DNA was found in the bathroom on a towel and bloody sock, and a piece of wood from the knife that killed Hayden also was found on one of the socks, according to testimony.
"(That evidence) puts him at that apartment at the time of her death," Hudson told jurors during closing arguments.