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Arrest Made for 1981 Murder in Coconino County

February 18
23:53 2014

On Thursday, February 13, 2014, Coconino County Sheriff’s Detectives arrested 73-year-old Robert Rodriquez Resendez for a murder he allegedly committed in 1981 in Coconino County.

Robert Rodriquez Resendez

Robert Rodriquez Resendez

The Unsolved Murder

On August 18, 1981, 51-year-old Jerry Arnold Heath left Fort Worth, Texas, driving his 1978 Toyota Land Cruiser back home to Lompoc, California. He called his wife to tell her he was on his way home. On August 24, 1981, Mrs. Heath reported her husband missing to authorities in Lompoc. Two days later, Heath’s vehicle was found along Interstate 10 in Yuma County. Investigators found human blood inside the vehicle.

On September 7, 1981, a family driving cross country stopped on I-40 about fifteen miles east of Flagstaff to spend the night in their travel trailer. After dinner, the 16-year-old daughter walked into the brush where she found the badly decomposed body of Jerry Arnold Heath. The Coconino County Medical Examiner determined that the victim died of a single gunshot wound to the head.

Many possible leads were developed and investigated, however, no suspects were identified or apprehended. Nearly 32 years elapsed with no significant developments in the case.

Sheriff’s Cold Case Unit Takes on The Case

Joe Sumner joined the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit in 2008, after retiring in 2007 from the National Park Service as a criminal investigator. Sumner reviewed many unsolved homicide cases within Coconino County to search for leads and evidence. As items of evidence were inspected, many were reexamined using modern forensic technology. Sumner resubmitted latent fingerprints collected from the victim’s vehicle to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab in Quantico Virginia for reexamination. After submission to a national fingerprint database, the FBI found an identical match with known prints of Robert Rodriquez Resendez.

Sumner developed leads causing him to believe the suspect was alive and possibly somewhere in the area of Medford, Oregon. Officers of the Medford Police Department located the suspect and assisted with the investigation pending the arrival of Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Detectives and Cold Case Investigators.

Suspect Arrested

On Thursday, February 13, 2014, Sheriff’s Detectives interviewed Resendez who made statements implicating himself in this crime. Apparently the victim picked up Resendez as he was hitchhiking and Resendez subsequently robbed and murdered Mr. Heath. The Coconino Attorney’s Office issued a complaint and arrest warrant charging Robert Rodriquez Resendez with the Second Degree Murder of Jerry Robert Heath. This investigation is ongoing and extradition procedures are forthcoming.

This arrest is the direct result of the dedication of retired law enforcement officers who volunteer to investigate cold case homicides to provide closure for surviving relatives and prosecution whenever possible.

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