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Sarasota police use DNA testing to solve 1985 cold case murder

Investigators say they've found the man responsible for killing Denise Marie Stafford nearly 36 years after her death.

SARASOTA, Fla. — Almost 36 years after a young mother was killed in her home, Sarasota police say they've identified the man responsible.

Denise Marie Stafford was 28 years old when she was found dead on Oct. 13, 1985, in her home on Tarpon Avenue in Sarasota. Detectives at the time said they believed Stafford was home with her child when she was killed but were not able to track down the person who killed her.

The cold case once thought to be unsolvable was reexamined in 2020 through the lens of investigator Jeff Birdwell with the criminal investigations division, police said during a news conference Wednesday.

Detectives say clues from the original report led them to believe that Denise was attacked while standing and then intentionally placed lying down on her bed. This led them to use DNA technology to test items found at the time of the young mother's death, including the pants she was wearing.

In July 2021, investigators say they found a match belonging to 64-year-old Joseph Magaletti, who died in prison in 2015, was a person of interest in the case back in 1985 was but was never found convicted of the crime, according to police.

Officers added the Magaletti was already sentenced to life in prison for a separate 1995 murder.

Credit: Sarasota Police Department

"Thanks to science and advancements in DNA testing and technology, all cold cases have a chance," Investigator Jeff Birdwell said. "We're not giving up on any case and this case being solved, 35 years later, is a testament to that."

RELATED: Police search for information in a 1985 cold case death of a young mother

Watch the full press conference below.

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