Arrest made in 1982 murder of high school student

Arrest made in 1982 murder of high school student »Play Video
Lori Billingsley in an undated photo.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — More than 30 years after a high school student was found dead in a drainage ditch west of Portland, authorities this week charged her former neighbor with aggravated murder — a case cracked through advances in DNA technology, the Washington County Sheriff's Office said.

Kenneth Lee Hicks, 49, of St. Helens, was arrested Wednesday and booked into the county jail. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Thursday, The Oregonian reported.

Hicks was 19 when Lori Billingsley's body was found Oct. 10, 1982, in a drainage ditch in the community of Aloha. The 17-year-old had been beaten, stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted.

Hicks was Billingsley's neighbor and the last person to see her alive, the Sheriff's Office said. Sgt. Bob Ray said Hicks was a prime suspect at the time, and detectives believed he knew more than he was telling during interviews. After more than a year of pursuing the case, detectives decided there was insufficient evidence to arrest him.

In 1991, when DNA evidence was gaining recognition as an investigative tool, the Sheriff's Office submitted evidence from the Billingsley homicide to the Oregon State Police crime lab. No profile was identified and the case grew colder.

In December 2010, Mike O'Connell, a retired sheriff's office detective, returned part-time to help solve cold cases and started working on the Billingsley homicide. DNA technology had advanced a great deal in two decades and, last April, O'Connell served a search warrant to obtain Hicks' DNA.

Hicks' DNA profile matched the DNA evidence from the homicide, Ray said.

Ray credited Detective Jim Welch, now deceased, for conducting a thorough investigation back in 1982, saying his work was invaluable to the detectives who re-examined the case.

"The DNA was just the last piece of the puzzle," Ray said.

The case was presented to a grand jury, and Hicks was indicted Tuesday. District Attorney Robert Hermann will prosecute the case he was assigned 30 years ago.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.