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Coconino sheriffs solve 32-year-old cold case

Sheriff’s deputies in Coconino County say they’ve caught a man they believe is responsible for a 32-year-old cold case murder.

On Thursday, detectives arrested 73-year-old Robert Rodriguez Resendez for the 1981 murder of 52-year-old Jerry Arnold Heath.

Gerry Blair, public relations officer for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, said retired investigator Joe Sumner was able to link Resendez to the murder after receiving a fingerprint match on evidence found in Heath’s car, which Heath was driving when he was killed.

“A lot of times technology, particularly with DNA, has changed so drastically that things that are available certainly were not available in 1981,” Blair said.

“(Sumner) submitted numerous latent prints… to several national databases and did get a hit, with an identical match, with the known prints of Robert Rodriguez Resendez.”

After receiving a fingerprint match, Blair said detectives worked to locate Resendez and tracked him to Medford, Oregon.

“Working with authorities in the Medford Police Department they were able to locate the gentleman,” Blair said. “During an interview, Mr. Resendez did make some statements implicating himself in the crime of murder.”

On Aug. 18, 1981, Heath was driving from Texas to California when he was murdered, Blair said.

“The victim had left his place of employment in Fort Worth, Texas and he was driving his Toyota Land Cruiser back home to Lompoc, Calif.,” Blair said.

When Health did not arrive at home a few days later his wife filed a missing persons report, Blair said.

About a week later, Heath’s car was found with blood inside along the westbound lanes of Interstate-10 in Yuma County. Then, nearly a month after his disappearance, Heath’s body was discovered about 15 miles east of Flagstaff dumped in the brush along Interstate 40.

An autopsy showed he had died from a single gunshot wound to the head.

Blair said closing the case after such a long time has helped bring some relief to Heath’s family.

“We did talk to one of the family members and I think there was a sense of relief, and if nothing else a sense of closure,” he said.

Resendez is now facing a second-degree murder charge.

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