GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Authorities have announced the arrest of a new suspect in a rape and murder more than three decades ago for which another man served 16 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence.
State police and Adams County prosecutors said Tuesday that Chris Speelman, 58, of New Oxford is charged with criminal homicide, rape, robbery and burglary in the August 1987 slaying of 85-year-old Edna Laughman.
Lt. Mark Magyar said the arrest was made possible by advances in genetic genealogy and the hard work of investigators. District Attorney Brian Sinnett said a company analyzing the DNA profile provided by investigators came up with a list of surnames, including Speelman's, and other information including hair and eye color.
Sinnett said Speelman had lived next-door to the victim “within the same structure" about a decade before her murder. A DNA sample provided by him a few months ago was “an absolute match" to the suspect's DNA, he said.
Sinnett said investigators believe Speelman went to the home to rob the victim, and finding her home, he attacked, suffocated and sexually assaulted her. He had not been a suspect previously and had not been interviewed before 2018 in the case, Magyar said.
Another man, Barry Laughman, a distant relative of the victim, was convicted in 1988 and served 16 years before he was cleared.
Police said Laughman confessed several weeks after the crime and provided information that only the killer could have known. Doctors said Laughman had an IQ of 70 at the time, meaning he was functioning at the level of a 10-year-old. He was ordered freed in November 2003 and the charges were dropped the following year after DNA samples feared lost were located and were found to belong to someone else.
“The evidence exonerated, ultimately, Barry Laughman. The evidence brought justice to Chris Speelman and for Edna," Sinnett said.
Speelman was taken into custody and would be denied bail, prosecutors said. Sinnett declined to say whether he would seek the death penalty but said several aggravating factors would support that decision. Court documents did not list a defense attorney, and a working phone number for the defendant could not be found Tuesday.
The district attorney said the case was proof that “killers and rapists will never avoid capture."
“'Whodunits' are a thing of the past, frankly," Sinnett said. “There is going to be DNA recovered from crime scenes, and that DNA is going to be preserved, analyzed — it may be 10, 15, 30 years down the line, but you will have justice."