By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - A Virginia man accused of killing a 21-year-old Phoenix-area college student in 1978 pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge on Friday.
Edward Meinhold, 54, entered the plea in the homicide case of Susan Schmidt during a brief arraignment before a court commissioner in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix.
Meinhold was arrested last month at his Bristol, Virginia home in connection with the high-profile murder of Schmidt, who was found slumped inside her car with multiple gunshot wounds.
Meinhold's attorney Jack Wilenchik said authorities made a "very grave error" in their investigation and arrested the wrong person.
"Edward Meinhold is innocent," said Wilenchik, in a statement released following the court hearing. "He is a good man [...] He has no connection to the tragic death of Susan Schmidt of any kind."
Authorities pinned the murder on Meinhold after a police forensics technician made a breakthrough in April while re-examining physical evidence gathered from the crime scene in Glendale, Arizona. Police said Meinhold lived in the area before moving to Virginia in his early twenties.
Meinhold was identified as a suspect and interviewed in July before being extradited to Arizona last Thursday, according to authorities. He remains jailed on a $500,000 bond, court records show.
Police had been stymied for decades over who was responsible for killing the popular, aspiring probation officer, who attended Arizona State University and Glendale Community College.
Schmidt's body was found by a jogger in her vehicle on the evening of March 22, 1978 in the large suburb of Glendale, west of Phoenix. She had last been seen at a shopping mall about 30 minutes earlier, police said.
Meinhold's next court appearance is set for October 27.
(Editing by Curtis Skinner and Andrew Hay)