SARASOTA, Fla. — After three decades, the murder of a young woman may finally be headed from "cold case" status to "closed case."

  • Judith Doherty, 23, found dead on July 31, 1988
  • Sister Karen Aron never gave up hope that killer would be found
  • DNA evidence sent for analysis in 2009 led to a match
  • More Manatee County stories

It's the moment that Karen Aron has waited more than 30 years for. 

"I never gave up and I never stopped believing. I said as long as there is life, there is hope," Aron explained. 

Aron's sister, Judith Doherty, was found dead in a field near Booker High School in Sarasota on July 31, 1988.

For years, investigators searched for a possible suspect and couldn't make an arrest. The case ran cold. 

Doherty was just 23 when she was killed. Both of her parents and numerous family members have since passed away, never knowing what happened to her. 

Over this past summer, Aron said she visited her sister's grave and made her a promise. 

"I don't know how, I don't know when, but I promise you before I leave this world you will see justice. Somehow it's going to happen," she said. 

And it did. 

On Tuesday, detectives with Sarasota Police say they issued an arrest warrant to David Stephens, 62. He is currently incarcerated at the DeSoto Correctional Institution on unrelated charges. 

Police say crime scene evidence from the 1988 killing was preserved so well that in 2009 DNA from the case was sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for processing. Using new technology, the DNA hit as a match for Stephens. 

"The DNA match was irrefutable," said Det. Anthony DeFrancisco. 

Stephens lived across from Booker High School at the time of the killing. He's set to be released from prison in 2021 and will stand trial in this case.