By Jacob Burg
A Florida man has been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for stabbing an unarmed convenience store clerk 73 times.
Beer cans discarded in a public dumpster 27 years later were the keys to connecting him to the brutal murder scene.
Using DNA evidence linking him to the crime scene, a jury found Kenneth Stough Jr. guilty in August of murdering Terrance Paquette.
Mr. Paquette, 31, likely spent his last evening selling beer, cigarettes, and sodas, as he worked alone at the Lil’ Champ store in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 3, 1996.
The next morning, someone noticed the lights switched off at the store and peeked inside, authorities said. The unnamed witness tried the door, and finding it locked, called the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, according to an arrest affidavit for Mr. Stough.
When deputies arrived at the scene, two employees from an armored car service were waiting outside for the business’s usual cash deposit, a report showed. They’d found the doors locked, too.
Orange County deputies found Mr. Paquette’s car parked in front of the store and called his residence. Another employee provided authorities with keys to the business.
Upon entering, Orange County deputies found a gruesome scene.
Terrance Paquette was dead on the bathroom floor, lying in a pool of blood with stab wounds to his head, neck, trunk, chest, abdomen, and extremities.
There was more blood splattered around the store, including on the beverage freezer and the front door lock. An analyst with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) later found that blood didn’t match Mr. Paquette’s.
Missing from the store’s safe was $1,000 cash that another employee had dropped in the night before, according to the affidavit.
It seemed to investigators that the killer injured himself in the attack, walked throughout the store, took the money from the safe, and left, locking the door behind him with Mr. Paquette’s keys. The keys were never found.
Investigators found no leads and closed the case in September 1997 without identifying any suspects, according to the affidavit.
An FDLE analyst uploaded the DNA profile from the freezer-door blood sample into the Combined DNA Index Database (CODIS), but no matches were ever made, authorities said.
Detectives reopened the case in July 2003 and took mouth swabs from witnesses to compare them to the DNA in the blood samples from the store. Failing to identify any suspects in the killing of Mr. Paquette, authorities closed the case again, according to the affidavit.
Sixteen years passed, and the case was reopened for a second time in 2019.
This time, Detective Brian Savelli was assigned to the investigation. Det. Savelli and other investigators at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office believed the blood left splattered around the store could lead them to the killer.
“The blood pattern showed movement in the scene by the suspect—from the bathroom to the beverage freezer, to behind the counter where money was taken, and finally on the entry-exit door, where the suspect more than likely escaped the scene,” Det. Savelli wrote in the affidavit.
In March 2021, FDLE contracted with Othram, a forensic genetic genealogy laboratory in The Woodlands, Texas. Othram was asked to analyze the blood sample from the beverage freezer door.
Through that partnership, it was determined the DNA from the murder scene matched relatives common to two people—Kenneth Robert Stough Sr. and Carol Ann Crawford, according to the affidavit.
Detectives then learned the pair had three offspring—Kent Allen Stough, Keith Owen Stough, and Kenneth Robert Stough Jr.
Detective Savelli discovered that Kenneth Stough Jr. had lived across the street from Terrance Paquette at the time of the attack.
So, he placed a tracking device on the younger Mr. Stough’s vehicle in August 2021. Then, he watched and waited.
Seventeen days later, Mr. Stough went into a Citgo convenience store in Eustis, Florida. He parked next to a public dumpster and tossed in a gray plastic bag full of beer cans before driving away, according to the affidavit.
Detective Savelli retrieved Mr. Stough’s bag of discarded Budweisers and passed the cans to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Unit, where analysts swabbed them for DNA samples.
They found that the DNA on the cans matched the blood left behind on the Lil’ Champ freezer door.
About six weeks later, on Nov. 2, 2021, Mr. Stough was arrested for first-degree murder with a weapon and robbery with a deadly weapon, authorities said.
He’d previously been arrested for disorderly intoxication and resisting arrest in January 2004, and for driving under the influence in July 2007, according to records of the Orange County Clerk of the Court.
He was given a ticket for driving with unsafe equipment in August 2007, records show.
After a five-day trial in Orlando, the jury found Mr. Stough guilty. On Aug. 25, he was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of Terrance Paquette.
Three days later, Mr. Stough made a request for a new trial. But Judge Rand Wallis denied it, according to court documents.
New Help for Old Cases
“Our role was just building a more expansive [DNA] profile from the original crime scene evidence,” David Mittelman, founder and CEO of Othram, told The Epoch Times.
To connect evidence collected from a crime scene to a potential suspect, specialists analyze genetic markers. Genetic markers refer to specific identifiable parts of an individual’s DNA.
Traditional genetic profiles logged in CODIS have only 20 markers used to determine a potential DNA match.
Othram’s new DNA sequencing technology utilizes hundreds of thousands of genetic markers. This results in a more comprehensive DNA profile and a higher chance of identifying an accurate match during a criminal investigation, Mr. Mittelman said.
Othram created a new DNA profile for the original blood sample left on the beverage freezer that was more extensive than the DNA profile created in 2003, Mr. Mittelman said. Then, FDLE authorities used it, doing “great work” to find a genealogical match, he said.
Othram’s new DNA technology—Forensic Grade Genome Sequencing (FGGS)—is helping solve cases nationwide, he said.
In 1974, authorities found skeletal remains of a young girl in the Burnt Bridge area of Palm Beach County, Florida.
Because of the deterioration of both the body and the clothing, authorities had no leads for her identity and couldn’t determine a cause of death. Investigators failed to find a match for the girl in CODIS. Attempts in 2014 and 2015 also were unsuccessful.
In 2021, investigators sent the unidentified girl’s DNA to Othram. The lab created a new DNA profile to deliver to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for genetic genealogy testing.
Authorities then were able to confirm her identity as Suzanne Gale Poole, who was 15 when she went missing just before Christmas in 1972.
In September 1997, deputies with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office found a body floating in the Intracoastal Waterway in Flagler Beach, Florida.
The unidentified white male was bound, shot, and stabbed repeatedly, then dumped in the water. Twenty-four years passed, and he remained a John Doe.
Then, in 2021, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly sent skeletal remains of the man to Othram. The company used FGGS to build an extensive DNA profile for the victim and identified him as Robert Bruce McPhail.
Authorities still are trying to identify Mr. McPhail’s murderer.
In 1974, Carla Walker and her boyfriend stopped at a local bowling alley in Fort Worth, Texas. Ms. Walker was forcibly pulled from the passenger seat of their vehicle, while the assailant held her boyfriend at gunpoint and beat him into unconsciousness.
Authorities found her body days later in a culvert but failed to identify her murderer with conventional DNA testing methods.
Nearly 50 years later, Othram tested Ms. Walker’s remains and helped the Fort Worth Police Department detectives find her killer—77-year-old Glen Samuel McCurley. He was brought to justice in 2021 and sentenced to life in prison.
Now U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is working with Othram to get the Carla Walker Act passed. It would provide federal funding—up to $20 million per year—allocated for local and state-level forensic genetic genealogical DNA analysis to solve cold cases like Walker’s and Paquette’s.
With federal funding, law enforcement agencies would be able to afford to use advanced DNA testing in the hopes of solving some of their oldest, coldest cases.
“It’s not just technology that works,” Mr. Mittelman said, but now there will be funding “to make sure that every agency has access to the latest tools.”