Police make arrest in abduction of Oklahoma girl nearly 20 years ago

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 13, 2015 11:06 AM

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Oklahoma police using DNA evidence arrested a man in a child abduction case from nearly two decades ago that saturated local news coverage and led to a national manhunt for the girl and her assailant.

Joseph Palma, 56, was arrested on first-degree murder and kidnapping charges on suspicion of breaking into the bedroom of a neighbor, 8-year-old Kirsten Hatfield, in 1997 in Midwest City, just east of Oklahoma City, officials said on Tuesday.

Hatfield was last seen by her mother after tucking her into bed.

"Numerous leads were investigated in the case immediately after the crime was discovered but the juvenile was never found and the trail went cold," Midwest City Police Detective Darrell Miller said in an arrest affidavit.

Earlier this year, investigators went back to examine blood found on the windowsill of the girl's room and on her underwear, neither of which had been tested previously. Detectives then went back to collect DNA samples from all involved in the case, the affidavit said.

Testing showed Palma's DNA matched the blood samples.

"The evidence shows that Kirsten may have been targeted by Palma for sexual assault," the affidavit said.

Palma told investigators he was home at the time of the incident but gave slightly different accounts of the night to two different investigators. There was no indication of police searching his home at the time.

Palma lives in the same home, which is two houses away from the crime scene, and detectives believe he stayed there to conceal evidence, the affidavit said. Police have been searching the home since Monday.

A lawyer for Palma was not listed on arrest records.

(Reporting by Heide Brandes; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Trott)