Arizona man sentenced to 55 years in 1981 murder

Posted: Updated:
Gary Billy Bivens By Alicia Barron Gary Billy Bivens By Alicia Barron

PHOENIX (AP) -- An Arizona man convicted in the beating death of a 93-year-old woman was sentenced to the maximum 55 years in prison in a case that went unsolved for nearly three decades until investigators revisited DNA evidence from the crime scene.

Gary Billy Bivens pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and aggravated assault in the January 1981 death of Martha Winters and an attack on her sister-in-law during a burglary at the women's Phoenix home. The 92-year-old sister-in-law was beaten but survived.

Stephen Enteman, Martha Winters' great-grandson, asked for the maximum sentence, saying the attack had a devastating effect on his family. He recalled how as an 11-year-old he noticed that his great-grandmother's face was swollen as her body lay in the casket during a memorial service.

"This was a lot of trauma to a body," Enteman said, his voice cracking with emotion.

Authorities say the case was solved after investigators re-examined it and matched DNA found on a comb outside Winters' home with DNA from Bivens.

Bivens wasn't a suspect until 2010 but had submitted a DNA sample to a national database after he was arrested on armed robbery charges. Police say DNA processing wasn't available to investigators in 1981.

Investigators said a fingerprint from Bivens was found on a note left at the burglary scene that said he would kill Winters' sister-in-law if she didn't have money to give to him. Prosecutors said Bivens wrote the note because Winters' sister-in-law was deaf and needed him to write out his demands to understand them.

The no-contest plea by the 55-year-old in December spared him the possibility of the death penalty.

Garrett Simpson, Bivens' attorney, said his client poses a low danger to the community, has brain injuries from childhood due to physical abuse by his mother's boyfriends, suffers from liver disease and hepatitis C, and has a life expectancy of probably less than two years. Bivens was brought into court in a wheelchair.

Simpson, who sought the minimum sentence of 21 years, said his client's squalid upbringing that involved alcoholic parents and brain injuries doomed him at an early age. Simpson read a statement by his client, who he said regrets the loss of life and asked for forgiveness for any wrong he has committed.

"I wish the glory of God to be with them and their family," the statement said of the victims. "May they rest in peace."

Prosecutor Vince Imbordino said he doesn't believe Bivens' claim that he doesn't remember the attack. "His fingerprint is on that note," Imbordino said.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Karen O'Connor said whatever brain abnormalities that Bivens has have no connection to the attack.

Bivens was working as a laborer when he was arrested in Winters' murder in summer 2010. He was convicted of robbery in 1981 and aggravated assault in 1999.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.