A suspect in the brutal 1986 stabbing of an Escondido man made his first court appearance on Monday after a bloody handprint helped authorities tie him to the slaying more than three decades later.
Nathan Eugene Mathis, 62, of Ontario, California pleaded not guilty to one count of murder in connection with the killing of 75-year-old Richard Finney, the Escondido Police Department said.
Finney lived alone in an apartment on East Mission Avenue and was found by authorities in November 1986 with 31 stab wounds from three different knives, according to retired EPD homicide investigator Lt. Richard Bass, the detective called to the crime scene at the time.
He presented one of the first testimonies at Mathis' pre-trial hearing and explained how the evidence was collected that would eventually link the suspect to the crime scene.
"After photographing it, I used an expandable knife to cut out the handprint in the drywall so I could use it for possible future identification," Bass said.
For decades, the case sat cold as investigators had trouble tying a grisly piece of evidence found at the scene -- a bloody handprint left on a wall -- to anyone specific.
But even after using State-of-the-art DNA testing in 2007 to reexamine the evidence, the Escondido Police cold case team could not find a match.
Then, in 2016, Forensic Fingerprint Expert Cassaundra Barnes used new technology to examine a fingerprint collected from the apartment, police said.
"She re-photographed it with newer equipment, more advanced technology and she was able to submit that fingerprint for a match," said Carter.
Investigators say the higher quality print combined with advances in fingerprint comparison databases, led them to Mathis.
Escondido police did not discuss a possible motive and did not say if Mathis and Finney knew each other. Bass noted during his testimony that investigators did not see signs of forced entry at the apartment.
There were three different bloody knives collected from the crime scene, Bass said. One of them used so forcefully it was bent in half. One of the knives was found near a butcher block and another was found behind a rocking chair, near where the victim was found.
"The victim was clothed but on the floor next to an ottoman on the floor," Bass said.
Mathis lived in the North County at the time of the killing.
Police said Mathis did not show any emotion when he was arrested on April 18. He was booked into the Vista Detention Facility and held on $3 million bail.