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Pontiac — An ex-convict who got away with murder for nearly 30 years was sentenced to life in prison without parole Tuesday.

Billy Joe Bennett, 55, of Rochester Hills was convicted earlier this month in the April 1988 killing of an 88-year-old widow, Elnora Barrager, whom he testified he had done odd jobs for at times.

He was sentenced in Oakland Circuit Court.

Barrager died of a heart attack, suffered during a home invasion in which she was sexually assaulted, according to the investigation.

When questioned by investigators decades ago, Bennett initially denied being in Barrager’s home and later — after blood found inside the Pontiac residence matched his DNA — recalled cutting his hand while changing a light fixture in the victim’s bedroom.

Investigators testified how Bennett had provided inconsistent statements to them in 1988, 1990 and finally last December when new DNA technology helped to provide a match with the blood evidence.

A jury deliberated in Judge Leo Bowman’s court less than a day before returning the verdict against Bennett.

Bennett has an extensive criminal history including break-ins and prison escape and was paroled in 2012. He testified against the advice of his attorney, Richard Taylor. Bennett said he knew Barrager and occasionally did chores for her.

Jurors also heard testimony from Constance Resendez, Bennett’s girlfriend at the time of Barrager’s death, who recalled how 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. Resendez recalled another conversation in which 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.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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