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Pontiac — An ex-convict got away with the murder of an 88-year-old widow for nearly 30 years but was finally tripped up by a girlfriend’s testimony, his inconsistent statements and advancements in processing DNA evidence, his attorney said Monday.

Billy Joe Bennett, 55, of Rochester Hills will be sentenced March 8 for felony murder in the 1988 death of Elnora Barrager. An Oakland Circuit Court jury found him guilty Friday after a day’s deliberation. Bennett faces mandatory life in prison.

“He (assistant prosecutor John Skrzynski) had my client’s blood found in her bedroom,” said Bennett’s attorney, Richard Taylor. “My client had trouble explaining how it got there. That and testimony from his girlfriend wrapped up the case for them.”

Bennett, who has an extensive criminal history, testified against Taylor’s advice. He said he knew Barrager and occasionally did chores for her. But he insisted he had nothing to do with her death. She suffered a fatal heart attack and was sexually assaulted during an apparent break-in of her Pontiac home

“I never harmed Ms. Barrager ever. ... I had no reason to harm anyone,” Bennett testified.

Detectives talked with him in 1988 within days of the death and Bennett said he hadn’t seen Barrager for about a year. Two years later, when confronted about his blood being found in the home, Bennett recalled he had done some odd jobs for Barrager shortly before her death and had cut his hand while fixing a light fixture in the bedroom. Last year, he offered inconsistent statements to Oakland County Sheriff’s investigators before his arrest.

Taylor said significant advances in DNA evidence processing helped investigators match blood in the home with that of Bennett.

Constance Resendez, Bennett’s girlfriend at the time of the death, testified she had been with Bennett and another man the night before the killing and heard them discuss a possible break-in of Barrager’s home. Later, she said Bennett told her they had been in the home and the other man killed “the old lady.”

No one else has ever been charged in the incident and Bennett’s blood was the only evidence linking anyone to the death.

Bennett has an extensive criminal history including break-ins, prison escape and car theft. He was released from prison in 2012 and was set to complete his parole last year.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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