Two decades after a pregnant Connecticut teenager was raped, beaten and strangled, a New Britain man is going on trial for her death based on new DNA tests that linked him to the crime and cleared an innocent man who served 20 years in prison.
A Hartford Superior Court jury will begin hearing evidence Tuesday in the potential death penalty case of 53-year-old Pedro Miranda, who's also awaiting trial in the killings of two other teenage girls from Hartford in the 1980s.
The upcoming trial involves the 1988 killing of 17-year-old Carmen Lopez, who was six months pregnant at the time. Her boyfriend, Miguel Roman, was convicted of her murder and served 20 years of a 60-year prison sentenced before a judge set him free in December 2008 based on the DNA test results. A judge dismissed Roman's case and formally exonerated him in 2009.
Miranda, who denies the allegations in all three cases, is charged with capital felony and murder in Lopez's death.
"He had nothing to do with it," said his lawyer, Vicki Hutchinson.
State prosecutor David Zagaja declined to comment.
Miranda, who's on the state's sex offender registry for a 1998 conviction for raping a 24-year-old woman in West Hartford, is also charged in the murders of 16-year-old Rosa Valentin in 1986 and 13-year-old Mayra Cruz in 1987. Authorities say all three killings were sexually motivated.
Authorities arrested Miranda at his home in December 2008 and charged him with the three killings as part of a cold case investigation by prosecutors and state and local police. The probe was launched in July 2008 when new evidence was unveiled by the state public defenders' Connecticut Innocence Project, which looks into potentially wrong convictions.
The state's Innocence Project, formed in 2005, has also helped free two other Connecticut men who were sent to prison for crimes they didn't commit. James Tillman was released from a state prison in 2006 after serving 18 years for rape. In 2009, Kenneth Ireland was set free after serving two decades for murder and rape.
Lopez disappeared after leaving a family party in January 1988. She told her cousin she was going to meet Roman, an arrest warrant says. Her body was found a few days later in a Hartford apartment where she had been house-sitting, authorities said.
The warrant said Miranda, who was dating Lopez's cousin, knew from other family members that Lopez would be alone in the apartment, but denied any involvement in her death.
Roman was convicted of his girlfriend's death, despite an FBI investigator testifying during his trial that tests eliminated him as a suspect. Authorities say the jury convicted him based on circumstantial evidence and witness testimony.
The new DNA testing 20 years later on evidence found in the apartment excluded Roman as a suspect and eventually linked Miranda to the crime, authorities said. The testing used technology that wasn't available in the 1980s.