The Sacramento detectives caught a flight to the South Carolina coast.
They had a match to a bloody fingerprint that they hoped would thaw a nearly 30-year-old murder case long gone ice cold and a lead on a woman the local cops said stayed in a tent in the woods near the resort town of Myrtle Beach.
The woman lived homeless for years in the Carolina woods with her husband under her married name, Diana Creech. Years ago, in Sacramento, her name was Diana Salazar.
Sacramento police said Creech’s fingerprints matched the bloody print that officers spotted on the door window of Jimmy Lee Rowe’s abandoned pickup truck on April 26, 1986, the day they found the 32-year-old Rowe’s crumpled body face down on the floorboard, two bullets in the back of his head, near the old Wonder Bread bakery off of Business 80.
“We’re here from California. We’re here on an old case,” said Sacramento police Detective Kyle Jasperson’s voice on the recording played for jurors last week at Creech’s murder trial in Sacramento Superior Court.
Two years after that meeting in a North Myrtle Beach police interview room, Sacramento Superior Court jurors on Thursday found Creech guilty of first-degree murder in Rowe’s death, putting to end a case that went unsolved for decades.
Creech, now 54, faces a potential sentence of 25 years to life in state prison at her Nov. 10 sentencing before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Cheryl Chun Meegan.
Creech interviewed in South Carolina
It was Nov. 7, 2014. Jasperson and partner Detective Brian Dedonder had squeezed into a cramped interview room at North Myrtle Beach Police Department with Creech, now in her 50s, her voice a hoarse, scratchy drawl. Sacramento police had reopened the cold murder case in 2012. Jasperson, now retired, got the assignment.
“I’m here to help y’all,” Creech said on the recording.
It’s not easy to look at someone who is older and infirm and make a judgment about what she did 30 years ago.
Deputy District Attorney Valerie Brown
Yes, she used to live in California, but “I ain’t been to California in years,” she told the detectives. She lived in Loomis, went to school there. She married young – 18 – and the couple lived and worked at Donner Ski Ranch for a while before she caught her man in bed with her best friend. That was when she lighted out for South Carolina.
Jasperson listened for a while, then told Creech the reason why the two detectives had come out from California.
“There was a murder in Sacramento,” Jasperson said.
Creech initially denied knowing about the murder. The detectives returned to South Carolina in March 2015, this time with a search warrant.
“I didn’t kill nobody,” Creech said in her second police interview in North Myrtle Beach. She would be booked on the murder charge hours later. A day later, March 10, 2015, she, Jasperson and Dedonder were on a flight bound for Sacramento.
Attorney cites abusive relationship
At trial, prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Valerie Brown pointed to Creech’s statements to the investigators – first in South Carolina in 2014, then in Sacramento the following March – about her and a boyfriend, named in court as Tom Hulsey. Hulsey’s whereabouts remain unclear. Brown argued Creech and Hulsey hitchhiked Sacramento-area roads with a plan to rob the first person they could flag down to feed their meth habit.
The fingerprints tell us she was there, but they don’t tell us how she was there. Do they tell us how afraid she was? That he told her to drive? He was abusive. He had a gun.
Defense attorney Linda Parisi
That person was Rowe. Rowe picked up the pair and was soon shot dead in his truck after he gave them his wallet, prosecutors said.
Creech went along with the boyfriend but they weren’t a team, Creech’s defense attorney Linda Parisi argued, with an infirm, graying Creech at her side.
Parisi said Creech was in an abusive relationship and feared for her life if she didn’t go along with her boyfriend’s hitchhiking plan.
“There’s nothing easy about this,” Parisi told jurors in her closing argument. “The fingerprints tell us she was there, but they don’t tell us how she was there. Do they tell us how afraid she was? That he told her to drive?” Parisi said. “He was abusive. He had a gun. She was scared of him. Did she go along? Yes.”
But Brown argued the woman who lived for so long in the woods of South Carolina, miles and years from Rowe’s killing, was guilty of the man’s murder, asking jurors not to look at the feeble figure at trial but the woman who sat in Rowe’s truck in April 1986.
“It’s not easy to look at someone who is older and infirm and make a judgment about what she did 30 years ago,” Brown said in her closing argument. “Ms. Creech is 30 years older, but do not judge her on who she is today, because good people do bad things, too.”