Cold case solved: Prison inmate indicted in '06 beating death of 75-year-old woman

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Karen Brown

Posted on January 9, 2014 at 10:22 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 13 at 11:47 AM

PHOENIX -- More than seven years after allegedly beating a 75-year-old woman to death in her own home, a man who is already in prison has been charged with her murder.

Cold case detectives with the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office believe Jose Manuel Muros Nevares, 41, killed Patricia Staggs in October 2006 while trying to steal $20 from her purse.

According to Arizona Department of Corrections records, Nevares has been behind bars at the state prison in Florence since July 2012 for a drug offense earlier that year.

On Thursday, he was indicted on one count each of first-degree felony murder and burglary.

Detectives believe Nevares broke into Staggs' home near 36th Avenue and McKinley Street well before dawn on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Police say he attacked Staggs when she caught him taking money from her purse. Investigators say he beat her, hitting her more than 50 times in the head, neck and face. They say he also tried to strangle her with a towel.

Although Staggs was able to describe her attacker to police, she did not live to see him caught. She died four days after she was beaten.

"To go like this is just horrific," Dan Coberly, Staggs' son, said shortly before her funeral, not knowing that it would be years before investigators would find his mother's killer.

Fast forward to 2012.

DNA collected from the murder scene was submitted to the FBI's Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). That DNA matched a sample that was taken from Nevares in the course of an unrelated incident.

Based on the DNA evidence, detectives talked to Nevares about Staggs and what happened in her Phoenix home more than seven years ago. While they have not released any of Nevares' statements, it was information from that interview that led to the grand jury's indictment.

"The indictment announced today marks an important and long awaited step toward achieving justice for a senseless and brutal murder of an innocent member of our community," Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a news release. "This case is just the latest of many we expect to resolve using advanced investigatory techniques in collaboration with our law enforcement partners throughout the County."

Coberly, stunned by the indictment after all this time, said Detective Dennis Olson of the Maricopa County Attonrey's Office approached him about three months ago with his suspicions about Nevares.

"I am in awe of what the detective did," Coberly said Thursday afternoon. "He went above and beyond, and needs to be praised. ... I do not have the vocabulary to express my gratitude."

Regardless of their agency, cold-case detectives, like their active-case counterparts, take their work very seriously.

"We never forget that each victim was a parent, spouse, sibling, friend, and loved one," read the Phoenix P.D.'s Cold Case Homicide website. "We will always work each case as hard as we can to bring it to a conclusion."

And for that, Coberly is grateful.

While the Phoenix Police Department's Homicide Cold Case Squad is well-established and has had numerous successes over the years, the County Attorney's Cold Case unit was created just last year. That team works with law-enforcement agencies throughout the county in their ongoing efforts to review new leads and apply advances in technology to help them clear unsolved murders.

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