SAN BERNARDINO - Armed with new technology, police detectives have been able to solve a number of cold cases by matching a suspect's DNA.
But in Orange County, an elderly Phelan man has been ordered to stand trial after his fingerprint allegedly matched those found by detectives 44 years ago at a bloody crime scene.
It was the break authorities were looking for in the beating and strangulation of 47-year-old Christine Elizabeth Wariner, the live-in manager at the California Hotel in Santa Ana, in 1964.
After hearing testimony and reviewing some of the evidence presented at the hearing, a judge ordered Charles Edward Faith Jr. to stand trial on murder charges in Wariner's death after a two-day hearing concluded Jan. 5 in Orange County Superior Court. He is scheduled to appear again in court Jan. 20.
Faith's fingerprint, which was matched through the use of advanced forensic technology, proved to be key, prosecutors say.
"In 1964, they knew it was going to be the smoking gun," said Senior Deputy District Attorney Larry Yellin. "It just took the 40-plus years to figure out whose they were."
Authorities also believe evidence shows Wariner may have been sexually assaulted.
The 68-year-old Faith was being held on $1million bail. He faces up to life in state prison if convicted.
Wariner's death is the longest-running cold case in Orange County history that resulted in an arrest and prosecution, prosecutors said.
Faith's lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Julie Swain, did not return a phone call and e-mail requesting comment.
Wariner was found bludgeoned and partially nude in her room at the hotel. The assailant left her door open, and she was discovered by a tenant who wanted to pay rent.
During the investigation, officers collected evidence from the scene, such as bloody fingerprints, according to Santa Ana police.
At the hearing last week, former Tustin Police Chief Charles Thayer, now 78, testified about how officers knew back in 1964 that identifying the mystery fingerprint could solve the crime, Yellin said.
Fingerprint analysis methodologies have changed little since then, but the technology used to examine them has progressed.
The ability to match fingerprints has improved through the use of computers. Santa Ana cold case detectives tackled the case again in 2006 and submitted the fingerprint to the county's crime lab for processing through a state digital database.
Detective Louie Martinez, in the Cold Case Unit, declined to discuss the case while it is in the courts.
The fingerprints were first matched to Faith in 2003, Yellin said. After numerous interviews, an arrest warrant was issued in November 2007.
With help from U.S. marshals, police arrested Faith at his mobile home in Phelan.