Florida truck driver pleads guilty to rape and murder of journalism intern, 21, in 1980

Florida trucker pleads guilty to rape and murder of journalism intern, 21, in 1980 after cops made DNA break-through in 40-year-old cold case

  • James Clanton, 62, abducted Helene Pruszynski and sexually assaulted her 
  • He dumped her body in a field in Englewood, Colorado, 40 years ago
  • Clanton pleaded guilty and expressed remorse after 15 minutes in the court 

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A truck driver has pleaded guilty to raping and murdering a 21-year-old journalism intern in 1980 after he was snared by DNA.

James Curtis Clanton, 62, abducted Helene Pruszynski as she got off a bus in Englewood, Colorado, and sexually assaulted her before dumping her body in a field.

He was finally caught after police sequenced genetic material on a beer mug he had used and matched it to semen left on Ms Pruszynski’s coat.

Her sister Janet, the only surviving member of her family, described her as ‘my best friend’ and said, ‘there has not been a day that goes by that we haven’t missed her’. 

Florida truck driver pleads guilty to rape and murder of journalism intern, 21, in 1980

James Curtis Clanton, 62, (left, when arrested for domestic violence in 1998 and right today) pleaded guilty to murdering Helene Pruszinski after abducting her after she got off a bus

Florida truck driver pleads guilty to rape and murder of journalism intern, 21, in 1980

Ms Pruszynski had been staying with her aunt while she did an internship at a radio station in Englewood, Colorado, in January 1980

Florida truck driver pleads guilty to rape and murder of journalism intern, 21, in 1980

Clanton admitted the crime following 15 minutes in the court room. He expressed remorse on the flight to Colorado from his home in Florida, police said

Clanton pleaded guilty after just 15 minutes in court on Friday, reports Fox News.

Police had spent nine days tailing him before getting the DNA sample to convict him, after they ruled out other suspects. 

Clanton now faces a sentence of life imprisonment, and will only be eligible for parole after 20 years.

He would have faced the death penalty if his case had gone to trial.

He was convicted of rape in 1975, and arrested for domestic violence in 1998.

His name was changed a number of years ago and he had no contact with authorities in Florida for ten years, police said.

Ms Pruszynski was staying with her aunt while she did an internship at a radio station, before her body was found on 16 January, 1980. 

Florida truck driver pleads guilty to rape and murder of journalism intern, 21, in 1980

Clanton pictured boarding a plane before he was moved to Colorado to face trial.

Police snared him after finding his DNA matched that of semen left on Ms Pruszynski’s coat

Florida truck driver pleads guilty to rape and murder of journalism intern, 21, in 1980

Clanton faces a jail sentence for life, with 20 years before he is eligible for parole

Clanton opened up about the murder and expressed remorse as they flew to Colorado from Florida, where he lived, sergeant Atilla Denes told the Highlands Ranch Herald.

‘He said that he felt that he had received many more years of freedom than he deserved,’ she said. 

Douglas County district attorney George Brauchler congratulated officers for their ‘unrelenting’ and ‘outstanding’ efforts to close the cold case.

‘The resolution of a horrible sexual assault and murder in a desolate part of our county four decades ago ended within 15 minutes in a court room this morning’, he said.

Florida truck driver pleads guilty to rape and murder of journalism intern, 21, in 1980

Ms Pruszynski’s sister Janet described her as ‘my best friend’ and said there wasn’t a day that goes by where she didn’t miss her

Union County Sheriff Whitehead, whose force helped with the operation, said: ‘We are proud to see justice finally served and this person having to answer for the crime he committed almost 40 years ago.

‘We pray that the friends and family of the victim can now have peace knowing this murderer is captured.’

Clanton will be sentenced in April. 

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