By CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — The man accused of murdering a 17-year-old Ottumwa girl 39 years ago will stand trial this fall.
Robert Eugene Pilcher, 67, was charged with first-degree murder in November after DNA evidence linked him to the death of Mary Jayne Jones, 17, who was sexually assaulted and shot to death in a farmhouse west of Ottumwa on April 9, 1974.
At his pretrial conference Monday, Pilcher appeared in court to learn that his trial will begin on Oct. 15 at the Wapello County Courthouse. The trial is expected to last three weeks.
Years after most had resigned to the fact that the homicide would forever be a cold case, Pilcher was arrested at a hotel in Des Moines after DNA evidence from the murder was linked to his DNA profile in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a database in which DNA from all convicted felons in the state is registered.
Under a federally funded grant, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation operated a cold case unit from 2009-11, designed to re-examine unsolved crimes and determine if further investigation and scientific analysis could lead to an arrest. Items from the crime scene and from Jones' body were resubmitted to the DCI for additional analysis using technology not available in the 1970s.
Following Jones' murder 39 years ago, Pilcher — along with 300 other people in the week following the homicide — was interviewed and released. No arrests were ever made.
According to past Courier articles, in 1975, Pilcher was found guilty of perjury in connection with a 1974 trial which ended in his conviction on charges of sodomy that occurred in a farmhouse west of Ottumwa on April 5, 1974, four days before Jones' body was discovered.
During Pilcher's sentencing for his perjury charge in February 1975, his defense attorney, Tom Walter, said "the court well knows that Mr. Pilcher is under the suspicion of the charge of murder," referring to Jones' death.
"It's the intent of this state to have Mr. Pilcher locked up so that witnesses who allegedly couldn't come forward to testify will come forward to testify if Mr. Pilcher is incarcerated," Walter said.
Since then, Pilcher has been arrested and served time behind bars multiple times, including convictions for felony car theft in 1999 and a felony burglary case in 2002. He was also found guilty of aggravated or serious misdemeanors in 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002 and 2004. He was also arrested for escape of a felon from a work release program in 2004 and for suspicion of felony theft in September 2012.
Pilcher is being held in Wapello County Jail on $1 million cash-only bond.