Andre William Lepere was arrested on April 30, 2021 and charged with the February 1980 rape and murder of 79-year-old Viola Hagenkord in her home in Anaheim, California.
Hagenkord had been sexually assaulted and strangled by an intruder in her apartment complex. Her body was found on February 18, 1980, when neighbors became concerned about her whereabouts, but she may have died up to two days previously.
A DNA profile of the suspect was obtained from material left at the crime scene, although there is currently no information as to the source of that material. The case was reopened in September of 2020 using a DNA profile obtained from this evidence.
The FGG investigation was conducted by DNA Solutions in partnership with the Anaheim Police Department and the FBI Orange County Violent Crime Task Force,
Lepere was arrested at his home in Otero County, New Mexico, and he was extradited to Orange County. At the time of the murder, he lived only three apartment complexes down from the victim. His mother lived in the same apartment complex as the victim. He had been previously arrested for attempted murder, but there is no evidence of the date or disposition.
On February 7, 2022, a jury found Lepere guilty of first-degree murder. In May of 2022, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Lepere admitted to having consensual sex with Hagenkord, but he denied killing her. He claimed she instigated the encounter because she was lonely, a story that Deputy District Attorney deemed “ridiculous”.
On May 16, 2023, the California Court of Appeal denied Lepere’s appeal. Police had obtained a warrant to search items from Lepere’s trash can outside his house. His pre-trial motion to suppress the DNA evidence had been denied by the trial court. His main argument on appeal was that the warrant to search his trash for DNA was based on inadequate evidence and lacked probable cause; all of the DNA evidence was therefore inadmissible under the fruit of the poison tree doctrine.
The court held that the “question facing a reviewing court asked to determine whether probable cause supported the issuance of the warrant is whether the magistrate had a substantial basis for concluding a fair probability existed that a search would uncover wrongdoing.” The burden of proof is on the party seeking to overturn the warrant to show that the affidavit failed to set forth sufficient competent evidence of probable cause.
In this case, the court held that the affidavit’s description of FGG as a technique that took digitized genetic data of SNP profile of a suspect from the victim’s vaginal swab and uploaded it to a genealogy website, and which then used genealogy to identify the suspect, did disclose sufficient facts on which to base probable cause of wrongdoing. The defence had argued that FGG only identifies “possible suspects” and does not rise to the level of probable case. The court rejected this argument, and found that there were sufficient grounds for obtaining a warrant to obtain Lepere’s DNA and compare it with that taken from the victim’s sexual assault kit.
Lepere had also argued that the prosecutor’s remarks that his story was “ridiculous” were grounds for overturning his conviction. The court held that, given the DNA evidence and his own admission of sexual activity with the victim, there was overwhelming evidence of his guilt.
City News Service. “Man Charged with Rape-Murder of Woman 41 Years Ago in Anaheim.” NBC 4 News, April 30. Accessed May 4, 2021. https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/man-charged-with-rape-murder-of-woman-41-years-ago-in-anaheim/2585944/.
Emery, Sean. “Man Gets Life Sentence for Raping, Killing 79-Year-Old Anaheim Woman More than 40 Years Ago.” Orange County Register, May 14, 2022. Accessed January 15, 2023. https://www.ocregister.com/2022/05/13/man-gets-life-sentence-for-raping-killing-79-year-old-anaheim-woman-more-than-40-years-ago/.
KTLA Digital Staff. “New Mexico Man Arrested 4 Decades After 79-Year-Old Anaheim Woman was Sexually Assaulted, Killed in Her Apartment.” KTLA 5 News, April 30, 2021. Accessed May 4, 2021. https://ktla.com/news/local-news/new-mexico-man-arrested-4-decades-after-79-year-old-anaheim-woman-was-sexually-assaulted-killed-in-her-apartment/.
People v. Lepere. Opinion. In the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three, G061393 (Super. Ct. No. 21CF1170) (May 16, 2023).
Stringini, Mary. “Man Charged With Murder of Woman Found Raped, Dead in Anaheim Apartment 41 Years Ago.” Fox 11 News, April 30, 2021. Accessed May 4, 2021. https://www.foxla.com/news/man-charged-with-murder-of-woman-found-raped-dead-in-anaheim-apartment-41-years-ago.