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DNA evidence linked convicted killer to cold case death

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7 2013 7:05 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Tonya Lynn Lucero had no way of knowing it would be the last time she would see her best friend when she and Felicia Pappas walked down the street April 6, 1989.

Pappas' mother answered the phone the next day when Lucero called her friend to hang out.

"She said she didn't come home, and that's basically how I found out," Lucero said.

In July 2012, Thomas Evan Noffsinger, 46, was charged with aggravated murder, rape and forcible sodomy, all first-degree felonies, in connection with the death of 17-year-old Pappas.

Forensic scientists from the Utah State Crime Laboratory matched DNA taken from swabs off Pappas’ body with Noffsinger’s DNA profile.

If convicted, Noffsinger could face the death penalty.

At least a dozen family members and friends of the girl slain more than 20 years ago filled the courtroom in Matheson Courthouse during a preliminary hearing Thursday.

Many of them wore thin, navy blue ribbons to honor Pappas.

On April 5, 1989, Lucero and Pappas spent the evening together. They both received paychecks that day and went to the mall with friends. They took photos in a booth before heading to Pappas’ house to get ready for their night out.

Lucero, who was pregnant, had good news for her friend.

"I told her if I had a little girl, I was going to name it after her," Lucero testified before breaking into tears.

They walked about 3 miles from Pappas' house to the Cushion N Cue pool hall at 2865 S. State, South Salt Lake. They remained there until about 12:30 a.m. or 1 a.m., when they parted ways. Pappas then started to walk to her home near 4600 South and 100 East in Murray.

Around 7 a.m., Jeffrey Bob Jensen arrived to his job at an office building at 4511 S. 600 East, where he saw Pappas partially clothed and on the ground near the office.

“I was a little cautious as I went up. The closer I got, I could tell that the person was not alive,” Jensen testified Thursday.

The cause of death was strangulation homicide that occurred closer to 1 a.m. than 8 a.m., said Edward Leis, Utah deputy chief medical examiner.

Pappas’ injuries were likely the result of “pretty significant force,” Leis said.

Pappas’ cold case surfaced while Noffsinger was serving a life sentence for the March 3, 1990, murder of Marie Callender's chef Victor Aguilar.

In 2010, Noffsinger was convicted of killing Aguilar, stabbing him five times in the back outside the restaurant at 52 W. 200 South.

He and Grant David Stensrud were burglarizing the restaurant where Noffsinger had worked in the past.

Aguilar interrupted the two when he showed up for his shift. Noffsinger stomped on Aguilar and then cut his throat.

Liz Aguilar, Victor’s daughter, showed up Thursday to support the Pappas family.

“I’ve made my peace with (Noffsinger)," she said. "Even when I spoke at his parole hearing, I let him know that I forgave him.”

Noffsinger is also a person of interest in the 1989 disappearance of Annette Hill, 38, of Sandy. Her purse was found with blood on it in an apartment that Noffsinger was evicted from soon before Aguilar’s death.

Police also discovered one of Hill’s prescription bottles in the medicine cabinet at Noffsinger’s apartment at the time of his arrest for Aguilar’s death.

Noffsinger said he did not know Hill, but rather stole the purse from a car. Sandy police reopened the case when Noffsinger was linked to the Pappas killing. Ultimately, prosecuters determined they did not have enough evidence to file charges in the Hill case, which is now inactive.

Even though Noffsinger is already serving life in prison for another crime, the Pappas case symbolizes closure for Felicia's family who has wondered about her death for almost a quarter century, according to family friend Marita Viselli.

“No mother should go through that,” she said.

Viselli said she was not sure whether the family would request the death penalty.

Pappas' mother is expected to testify when court resumes Friday.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com

Twitter: whitevs7

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