Police tailing a suspect in the stabbing death of a waitress in 1998 got the evidence needed to charge the man when he spit in a parking lot.
A DNA sampling of the spittle, swabbed up by a detective, pinned the man to the 1998 killing, police said.
Robert Eric Denney, 19, is now charged with first-degree murder for the Nov. 26, 1998, stabbing death of Corey Parker, a waitress in Atlantic Beach.
DNA tests on Denney's saliva matched similar tests on hair and blood at the victim's apartment, police said in records obtained this week by The Florida Times-Union.
The spit was collected last summer outside Denney's workplace in Easton, Md. He was arrested Nov. 28.
Denney had been a neighbor of Parker. She was stabbed 84 times, the state attorney's case file shows.
Suspect Suspected the Police
Denney, scheduled for trial in Duval County in July, apparently suspected police were watching him last year, according to interviews and records in the case file, and was meticulous about keeping cigarette butts and other traces of possible evidence from them.
While doing surveillance on July 26, detectives watched Denney spit on the ground as he paced and smoked cigarettes outside his employer's back door. Sgt. Billy Carlyle of the Jacksonville Beach Police Department noted where the spit fell.
When Denney left work, Carlyle scraped up the spit and took it to the FBI lab in Washington.
Police asked for a saliva sample from Denney earlier that day at the Easton Police Department, but he refused. In addition, Denney never drank from a bottle of water given to him, kept a cigarette butt after smoking with an officer and refused to seal an envelope.
"This is the third time you have tried to get me to put my lips on something, the water, the cigarette and now seal these envelopes," Denney told the detectives.
Denney's boss, John Garufi, told officers that Denney "became very paranoid" at work and saved his cigarette butts in a garbage bag and took them home at night.
Denney was interviewed, along with other neighbors, after Parker's body was found. But he didn't become a suspect until former co-workers at Barbecue Ltd in Jacksonville Beach called police about their suspicions in June. By then, Denney had moved to Maryland.
His father, Michael Denney of El Paso, Texas, said Thursday his son had struggled with drugs and alcohol problems from time to time but was not a violent person.
"My son has absolutely nothing to do with this murder," Denney said in a telephone interview.
Denney's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Patrick McGuinness, declined to discuss the case.
Parker, a native of Rochester, N.Y., moved to the beach because she loved the ocean, her father said in an interview after the arrest in November.