It was a single fingerprint, and only a partial one at that, but it was enough Wednesday for a jury to convict Jimmy Lee Riley of murder in a 26-year-old cold case.
Riley left the fingerprint in Pauline McCoy’s blood as he grabbed the window ledge to crawl out of the tiny Golden Rod Street house, leaving the 87-year-old naked and dead, Assistant District Attorney Falin Syms told the jury in her closing statement.
In sentencing Riley, 53, to the maximum possible, Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. said he couldn’t think of another case where a victim was subjected to such torture.
Syms told the jury that Riley’s partial print was enough for a conviction.
“There is no reasonable explanation for his fingerprint to be in blood on the outside of her house,” Syms said.
If McCoy had been killed recently, chances are Riley would have been identified immediately, because the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab would have told local detectives that the results were inconclusive and it needed a better set of Riley’s fingerprints to compare.
In the 1980s the GBI policy was to report either negative or positive. The GBI told detectives Riley’s comparison was negative and he was struck from the suspect list.
McCoy was murdered sometime after 9 p.m. Dec. 20, 1986. That night, she had told a neighbor that she might not make it to church the next morning because she wasn’t feeling well. McCoy told her friend that if she couldn’t make it she would drop off her church donation for her friend to take to church.
Riley stabbed McCoy at least 15 times. He strangled, beat and kicked the slender woman who was an inch shy of being 5 feet tall.
The Richmond County Superior Court jury deliberated just more than an hour before convicting Riley of murder, burglary and possession of a knife during the commission of a crime.
Given the chance to leave the courthouse early for the first time all week, jurors returned to watch as Brown sentenced Riley to life in prison for murder, and 25 more years for burglary and the weapon crime.
Dennis Dunbar was also there for the sentencing.
“I’ve waited almost 27 years of my life for this day, for justice to be spoken for my grandmother,” said Dunbar, who testified this week, identifying his grandmother in a photograph taken during her life and one taken after her brutal death. He cried as the medical examiner described her injuries.
"She was the person who shaped my character," Dunbar had said on the witness stand Tuesday.
Wednesday as he left the courtroom, he came face to face with Riley’s mother. He took her hand and spoke kindly.