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Judge to Allow Evidence of Prior "Bad Acts" in Cold Case Murder Trial

27-Feb-2017

On May 14, 1997, a Midwest City second-grader went missing from her bedroom. Kirsten Renee Hatfield, only 8 years old, has not been seen since the night she disappeared--a ripped window screen and her torn panties in the backyard the only evidence of what could have happened.

In October 2015, police made an arrest in the cold case. They say blood found on the window screen connected a neighbor, Anthony Joseph Palma, to the case. 

Palma lived two doors down from the Hatfield family when Kirsten disappeared in 1997; at the time of his arrest, he was still living in the home two houses away from the abduction site.

Prosecutors say that Palma abducted Kirsten with the intent of sexually assaulting her, and although the girl's body has never been found, Palma is charged with the child's kidnapping and murder. They have asked an Oklahoma judge to allow evidence of "prior bad acts" committed by Palma to be entered in the case. The defendant has never before been convicted of a sex crime, but he does have an assault conviction in which his victim believes he would have raped her had her son not stopped the attack.

Prosecutors say the testimony of three women who say they were assaulted by Palma show a "propensity" to commit the abduction and murder of an 8-year-old child.

One woman says that she was 8 years old in 1980 when Palma was dating her older sister. She says that he came in through her bedroom window one night and touched her inappropriately.  The woman says that she didn't tell anyone about the incident for more than 20 years, and Palma was never charged in that case.

A second woman says that she was Palma's landlord in 1982, when he broke into her home and beat her head with a soda bottle. The woman says she believes he was trying to knock her out so that he could rape her. However, her son heard her screams and was able to stop the attack. In that case, Palma was convicted of first degree burglary and assault with a dangerous weapon. He was sentenced to 5 years but released from prison in 1986.

In two other cases, Palma was neither charged nor convicted of any crime. 

A third woman testified that she was 17 years old in 1998 (the year after Kirsten Hatfield's abduction) when Palma gave her a pill that made her black out. She says she has "flashes" of memory after taking the pill, including lying naked in a bathtub with the man pouring water over her. She says that when she regained consciousness, she was wearing Palma's boxer shorts. Although a medical exam revealed evidence of sexual assault, Palma was never charged with any crime.

Defense attorneys argued that the women's testimony is prejudicial and should not be allowed at trial, or it will deprive him of his constitutional right to a fair trial.

On Thursday, Oklahoma County District Judge Glenn Jones sided with the prosecution, saying that the women's testimony showed a "propensity" to commit the type of acts involved in Kirsten Hatfield's disappearance. Jury trial is scheduled for October.



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