SHELBY A Cleveland County jury on Monday found Donald Borders guilty of raping and murdering 79-year-old Margaret Tessneer.
The retired textile worker, who liked yard sales, soap operas and visiting friends in nursing homes, was one of three senior Shelby women discovered dead in their beds in 2003. Authorities have not connected Borders to the other deaths.
The panel of six men and six women deliberated for nearly three hours before reaching the unanimous verdict. Sitting with his hands clasped, Borders, 54, showed no emotion.
Superior Court Judge Richard Boner said sentencing will take place Tuesday. Borders faces life in prison without parole.
After the verdict, Tessneers family members, many in tears, hugged each other. Members of Borders family walked over and shook hands with members of the Tessneer family.
Were glad justice was serviced, said Tommy Clark, who is married to Tessneers daughter, Libby.
The Tessneer family is courageous and strong, Assistant District Attorney Sally Kirby-Turner said. They made my job possible. Their strength helped carry us through a long and arduous trial.
Donald Borders uncle, Taft Borders, said the families have been talking and praying for each other and we will continue to do that. Nobodys angry.
While Taft Borders said he didnt think it was possible for Donald Borders to get a fair trial in Cleveland County, we will live with what the jury said.
Seeking a DNA match
Tessneer and the other two Shelby women found dead in 2003 were discovered with their doors unlocked and phone lines cut or yanked out.
An autopsy at the time showed Tessneer was badly bruised on her chest, abdomen, upper arms, legs and feet. Officials said the number and color of the bruises indicated a struggle, but they couldnt determine a cause of death.
The other two deaths were listed as natural in autopsy reports, though questions were raised about those reports.
Lottie Ledford, 85, was discovered in her Shelby home Aug. 23, 2003 one month before Tessneer died. Authorities initially ruled her death was caused by heart disease, but police re-opened the case after Tessneers death.
Lillian Mullinax, 87, was found Nov. 10, 2003, her body too decomposed to provide usable DNA traces from a suspect.
In the years following Tessneers death, several detectives of the Shelby Police Department continued to work the case. As potential suspects were interviewed, DNA samples were taken but no matches made.
In 2009, Shelby Police officer Rich Ivey began investigating the case and was determined to get DNA samples from a list of suspects. Borders name was on the list.
The State Bureau of Investigation asked a Gaston County Police officer to serve a warrant on Borders for assault on a female and obtain a DNA sample. The officer used a cigarette butt to get the sample.
The DNA profile from the sample matched the DNA profile created in 2003 from sperm in the victims vagina. Authorities then got a search warrant and obtained another DNA sample by swabbing Borders cheek. It also matched the 2003 profile.
During the trial, the regional pathologist, Steven Tracy, and former N.C. Chief Medical Examiner John Butts testified that they thought the most likely cause of Tessneers death was suffocation, even though the cause of death listed on the autopsy report and death certificate was undetermined.
Jurors discuss for 3 hours
In closing arguments Monday, Kirby-Turner said the chances of the DNA source coming from anyone but Borders was one in a trillion.
At age 79, Tessneer should have lived her twilight years surrounded by family and loved ones not by him, Kirby-Turner said, pointing at Borders. She asked the jury not to forget Tessneer when they began deliberations because that woman deserves justice.
Defense attorney David Teddys closing arguments focused on what he said was contamination of the crime scene, the SBI lab and DNA samples. He contended the states witnesses werent credible and that evidence was lacking or unreliable. This is a railroad job, Teddy said.
The trial was entering its third week. Like others in the courtroom, including jurors and family members, Borders took notes throughout.
On Monday, he entered the courtroom and smiled at family members. For the rest of the day, he listened to arguments and the verdict with a blank look on his face.
Teddy said Borders will appeal.
After the trial, jury foreman Jerry Ledford said that reaching a verdict really wasnt that difficult a call.
The jury was totally convinced, he said. DNA was the nail that drove it in.