SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) ―
A former San Bernardino County man has been arrested halfway across the country on suspicion of smothering his 5-year-old daughter, who was found unconscious in his bed nearly three decades ago, authorities said Friday.
Charles Henry Austin, 56, was arrested by local police at a bar in Middletown, Ohio, on Wednesday -- one day after being charged him with murder. He could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
Prosecutors contend that Austin smothered 5-year-old Kelly Lynn Austin while she was visiting him at his parents' home in Highland. He told investigators that he had found the girl with a pillow on her head. She couldn't be revived.
An inconclusive autopsy meant that Austin was not immediately charged with the crime. He left California and was only located this year.
"It's been a long time. You don't know how happy I was to hear that," Kelly's mother, Joyce Austin, said Friday. "I always felt that Charles had something to do with her dying. ... I was in tears all day yesterday."
Austin told investigators he worked for a railroad company as a welder for several years and had lived in several states. He remarried and divorced, leaving four children in Ohio, San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney John Thomas said.
Austin was being held Friday at the Butler County jail on $2-million bail. Jail authorities refused to allow a telephone interview.
He did not have an attorney, and San Bernardino County authorities plan to request his extradition next week, Thomas said.
The Austins were separated and on their way to a divorce when Kelly was found on March 27, 1983, her mother said.
There were suspicions that the girl had been smothered, Thomas said, but the autopsy was inconclusive even though it said there were indications of asphyxia.
Austin left the state a short time later, and Joyce Austin never heard from him again.
But she never stopped thinking about Kelly's death.
"My life stopped right then," she said.
At the mother's request, investigators re-examined the case in 2001 without success. When it was re-examined in 2003, Thomas said new witnesses were located who provided additional information -- although he declined to provide details -- and a medical examiner looking at the old records concluded that Kelly was smothered.
However, investigators couldn't find Austin to interview him, Thomas said.
Investigators have not released a motive for the alleged killing but Kelly's mother said she believes he came home drunk while his parents were home and tried to silence his daughter.
"He was trying to muffle her from crying," she said. "That's what I think."
The couple split up because Austin "started being real abusive to me in front of my kids," and he had been in counseling for alcohol abuse, said Joyce Austin, who has an older daughter by another relationship.
"But did I believe that my daughter was in danger? No, I did not," she said.
She doesn't believe that Austin meant to kill their daughter.
"I'm sre he's been living a life of hell himself, you know," she said.