Shoe prints, DNA help convict man of 1996 murder

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Ronald Cortez By Jennifer Thomas Ronald Cortez By Jennifer Thomas
By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX – A man has been convicted of a 1996 murder thanks to advances in forensic technology and the use of DNA, according to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

Sarah Maxton, 30, was found murdered by the side of the road near Lower Buckeye Road and 103rd Avenue on Jan. 19, 1996. She had been shot four times.

Police found three distinct shoe prints in the area. In a news conference Wednesday morning, Montgomery said one set belonged to Maxton and another was found to belong to Ronald Cortez, 50.

Cortez was identified as an investigative lead at the time.

Montgomery said the investigation found that Maxton was in a trailer at Highland and 23rd Avenues a few hours before her body was located.

A man said he had received a call from Maxton the night of her murder and said she was "extremely scared," according to Montgomery. He was supposed to pick her up at a Burger King at Camelback Road and 23rd Avenue, but she was gone when he arrived.

Two cigarette butts that were found near the victim at the scene were similar to cigarettes that Maxton had in her jacket. Montgomery said Cortez's DNA was identified on one of the cigarette butts.

Cortez was arrested in Chino Valley in December 2012.

He was convicted of first-degree murder.

Maxton was a mother of three at the time of her murder. Her children ranged in age from 4 to 12.