In the end, it was a discarded piece of gum, casually spit on the ground in 2021, that was the key to solving the unsolved murder case of a college student that had baffled Oregon authorities for more than four decades.

Robert Arthur Plympton has been under police surveillance since authorities determined this year that he was a “likely contributor” to a DNA profile created from swabs taken from the body of Barbara Mae Tucker, who was 19 when She was murdered on the Mount Hood Community college campus in 1980.

On Friday, Mr. Plympton, 60, was found guilty of Ms. Tucker’s murder after a three-week trial in Portland, Oregon. According to The Oregonian reported on the investigation And Mr. Plympton’s convictionit was the oldest unsolved murder in Gresham, Oregon, east of Portland.

On the night of January 15, 1980, Ms. Tucker was expected to attend a class at the college where she was studying business administration. She never arrived.

Students heading to class the next morning found her “partially clothed” body on a brush-covered hillside near a campus parking lot, The Oregonian reported at the time. There were signs that Ms Tucker had been sexually abused and that she had struggled with her attacker.

For decades, authorities were unable to identify or arrest a suspect.

The first step toward a breakthrough in the case came in 2000, when vaginal swabs taken during Ms. Tucker’s autopsy were sent to the Oregon State Police crime lab for analysis. Laboratory technicians were then able to create a DNA profile from the swabs.

In 2021, Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia company whose services include DNA-based forensics, identified Mr. Plympton as a “likely contributor to the unknown DNA profile developed in 2000,” according to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement. It was not clear how the DNA connection was made; Prosecutors did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Gresham Police Department investigators discovered that Mr. Plympton lived in Troutdale, Oregon, east of Portland and northeast of Gresham, and began secretly watching him, prosecutors said.

When investigators saw Mr. Plympton spit a piece of gum onto the ground, they collected it and turned it over to a state police crime lab, prosecutors said.

“The laboratory determined that the DNA profile developed from the gum matched the DNA profile from Ms. Tucker’s vaginal swabs,” prosecutors said.

Mr. Plympton was arrested on June 8, 2021, as he drove away from the Troutdale home he lived with his wife and son, The Oregonian reported.

According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, he had a criminal record including convictions for second-degree kidnapping in Multnomah County in 1985.

Mr Plympton was 16 when Ms Tucker was murdered. Witnesses reported seeing her with a man the night she was killed, and several people reported seeing her running into the street waving her arms, perhaps asking someone for help, The Oregonian reported.

Multnomah County Assistant District Attorney Kirsten Snowden said at trial that there was no evidence that Ms. Tucker and Mr. Plympton knew each other, according to The Oregonian.

Mr. Plympton’s lawyer, Stephen Houze, said at the trial that there was “unmistakable, unavoidable reasonable doubt” about who killed Ms. Tucker, according to The Oregonian. He said witnesses described the man seen with Ms Tucker – who was almost 1.80m tall – as being about the same height as them or taller, while Mr Plympton was closer to 1.70m. He also said investigators never examined Ms. Tucker’s clothing for DNA evidence.

“We will appeal and are confident that his convictions will be overturned,” Mr. Houze and his lawyer, Jacob Houze, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Judge Amy Baggio of Multnomah County Circuit Court found Mr. Plympton guilty of one count of first-degree murder and four counts of “various theories of second-degree murder,” according to prosecutors.

“To be clear, this court has no doubt whatsoever that Robert Plympton beat Barbara Tucker in the head and face until she died,” she said at the hearing. “He has.”

Judge Baggio found Mr. Plympton not guilty of sexual assault, saying prosecutors had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he assaulted Ms. Tucker while she was alive, The Oregonian reported.

Mr Plympton is due to be sentenced on June 21. Based on his age at the time of Ms. Tucker’s death, He faces a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 30 years for first-degree murder.

According to The Oregonian, two members of Ms. Tucker’s family cried and hugged each other after the verdict was announced. Ms. Tucker’s older sister, Alice Juan, said in a statement on Tuesday that her family was “ecstatic” that the issue had finally been resolved.

“I thought as the years went by it might not be like this, but Barbie was a special little girl,” she said. Her little sister, she added, “was bright, lively, caring, all of that.”

Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.

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