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Trial underway for 1989 death of woman, 81

By Star-Advertiser staff and news services

LAST UPDATED: 02:40 p.m. HST, Jan 27, 2014

The death of 81-year-old Edith Skinner, found in her Honolulu apartment in 1989, didn't immediately look suspicious. But a single dark hair that didn't belong to her, found during her autopsy, helped a medical examiner determine she had been murdered, a prosecutor said. 

There were also bruises on her chest, neck and jaw, prosecutor Scott Bell told jurors Monday. 

Skinner "did not die of natural causes," he said in an opening statement. "She had been strangled." 

The hair and other evidence collected were preserved. "Time passed, the trail grew cold," Bell said. 

In 2005, thanks to advances in DNA technology, a criminalist re-examining the evidence found an unknown male's semen, which in 2011 led to a "hit" in the Hawaii state DNA database that matched the semen with Gerald Austin, whose grandmother lived in Skinner's Kalakaua Avenue apartment building, Bell said. Austin was charged with second-degree murder in 2012. 

Bell explained that then-28-year-old Austin wasn't considered a suspect at the time and remained "hiding in plain sight for more than two decades." 

Public defender Edward Aquino said in his brief opening statement that the evidence will show that Austin had sexual contact with Skinner, but that he didn't kill her. He said the question of who killed Skinner will remain unanswered at the end of the trial. 

"The truth is stranger than fiction," he said. 

New York City-born Skinner moved to Hawaii in the 1930s and lived alone in her seventh-floor rent-subsidized apartment, Bell said. The healthy but sometimes forgetful mother of one was found on July 25, 1989, lying on her bed wearing a peach-colored nightgown but no underwear. Despite that, police didn't immediately recognize signs of foul play, Bell said.

Her son, Stephen Skinner, of Tucson, Ariz., was the first to testify for the prosecution. He said he was living in Northern California when his mother was killed and returned to Honolulu as soon as he got word of her death, he said. In her apartment, he noticed that a cross she wore was missing. 

In her youth, his mother was a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer, he said. In Honolulu, she retired from managing a store. 

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lokela wrote:
What a sicko.
on January 27,2014 | 07:00AM
Grimbold wrote:
A misguided attempt of Necrofillia. Couldn't find a corpse , so this was next best.
on January 27,2014 | 09:12AM
RandolphW wrote:
I wonder if Keith Kaneshiro will take this case, or if he will assign it to someone else on his staff. The city prosecutor's office desperately needs some wins. Shades of Norm Chow. Oh, boy. Lucky we stay Hawaii.
on January 27,2014 | 07:48AM
NotNasti wrote:
Kind of too late for that, since trial has already started.
on January 27,2014 | 10:26AM
littleyoboboy wrote:
just save the state the time and money. use him for some deep sea research.
on January 27,2014 | 08:13AM
joseph007 wrote:
Keith Kaneshiro is the worst prosecutor we've ever had, except the last time he was elected before he was booted out. Hope people will boot this guy out again forever.
on January 27,2014 | 08:20AM
Why dont you apply for the position since you are so deeply impacted. It must be horrible being able to critize and yet nobody listens. Just go do it yourself.
on January 27,2014 | 09:49AM
droid wrote:
There is no shortage of attorneys who could replace Keith Kaneshiro. In case you were unaware, Hawai‘i has the highest number of lawyers per capita then any other state in the nation.

The problem is, you have to be elected to the position. So you also have to be a politician. That second part is the only reason Keith is where he is. (Hopefully, not for long.)
on January 27,2014 | 11:18AM
DAGR81 wrote:
Hawaii voters are not independent thinkers when the are at the ballot box.
on January 27,2014 | 09:51AM
nitpikker wrote:
carlisle(?) is available again.
on January 27,2014 | 10:37AM
hanoz808 wrote:
on January 27,2014 | 09:49AM
Waipahunokaoi wrote:
I miss Allie. Where is she/he hiding?
on January 27,2014 | 10:53AM
lee1957 wrote:
"only proves that he had sexual contact with the victim." And that proves a whole lot more about the defendent.
on January 27,2014 | 11:00AM
Solara wrote:
Someone please explain to me the purpose of having a statue of limitations on sexual assault. What's the point? Who is it supposed to benefit?
on January 27,2014 | 11:01AM
Mallory wrote:
These kinds of perps needs some dirty lickins
on January 27,2014 | 11:45AM
aloha101 wrote:
He's guilty!!!
on January 27,2014 | 12:22PM
environmental_lady wrote:
The defense lawyer is ridiculous. Certainly it wasn't consensual sex. Who else but a rapist would have killed her to silence her evidence? If I had been in the jury, I'd have already decided he's guilty. Anyway, I'm not on that island and won't be on the jury so my prejudgment doesn't count.
on January 27,2014 | 09:41PM
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