WHITTIER >> A man arrested more than 30 years after the 1981 rape and killing of a woman inside her Whittier home pleaded “no contest” to four felony charges Tuesday, on what would have been his victim’s 55th birthday, authorities said.
Joseph Allen Thornton, 53, immediately received a sentence of 24 years to life in state prison after entering his pleas in Norwalk Superior Court, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said.
Initially charged with murder, Thornton pleaded “no contest” to voluntary manslaughter, rape, sodomy by force and digital penetration by force, district attorney’s officials said.
For more than 30 years, Thornton had gotten away with the June 27, 1981, slaying of 21-year-old Blanca Negrete in her home in the 7900 block of Washington Avenue.
“At the time of the slaying, detectives had exhausted all leads and the case eventually went cold,” Ardalani said in a written statement.
But Whittier Police Department investigators reopened the cold case in 2010, and identified Thornton as a suspect in the crime in January of 2011 via previously unusable DNA evidence, police officials said at the time.
DNA evidence had been collected by investigators after the slaying occurred, however the technology of the time did not allow investigators to match it to a suspect, police said in a written statement. Thornton’s DNA had been entered into a law enforcement database as the result of a domestic violence conviction, Whittier police Lt. Kent Miller said at the time.
Once identified as a suspect, police turned their attention to locating and capturing Thornton, Miller said.
The trail led them as far away as Topeka, Kansas, where Thornton had stayed for many years after the killing, he said. Detectives ultimately tracked him down and arrested him in April, 2012, at his home in Auburn.
Negrete worked at what eventually became PIH Health Hospital at the time of her slaying, police said. What, if any, relationship that existed between her and her killer was unclear.
The conviction occurred on what would have been Negrete’s 55th birthday, Whittier police Officer John Scoggins said.
In addition to his prison sentence, Norwalk Superior Court Judge Yvonne T. Sanchez ordered Thornton to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, Ardalani said.
PHOTOS of convicted killer and rapist Joseph Thornton (above) and his victim, Blanca Negrete (below) courtesy of the Whittier Police Department.