HONOLULU (KHON2) — A 61-year-old Florida man has been linked to a decades-old cold case murder in Hawaii through DNA.
Thomas Garner is identified on suspicion of second-degree murder of Kathy Hicks.
Hicks was killed in 1982, her body dumped on Nuuanu Pali Drive.
Her body was found down a gulch about almost 39 years ago. According to court documents, two joggers spotted her along Nuuanu Pali Drive when they stopped by the water reservoir.
Hicks, 25, had been strangled to death. Her murder, and who killed her, remained a mystery until Friday, May 21.
Honolulu prosecutors are pursuing a case against 61-year-old Thomas Garner for Hicks’ murder on Sept. 19, 1982.
Garner was sentenced to life in prison earlier in May in Florida for the 1984 murder of Navy recruit Pamela Cahanes.
DNA evidence from that case helped link Garner to Hicks. Both Cahanes and Hicks were strangled.
Hicks, a Delta Airlines employee, was visiting Hawaii from Georgia to participate in a company softball tournament at Kapiolani Park.
Court records show she was staying at the Ilikai Hotel. She was last seen around 1:30 a.m. Sept. 19 with a man named “Tommy.”
According to two of Hicks’ coworkers, Hicks and Tommy rode an elevator from the 24th floor to the hotel lobby. Hicks and Tommy went toward the pool area while her friends went to a nearby club.
Hicks’ body was found around 10 a.m. on Sept. 19 by two joggers.
DNA from Hicks’ underwear was tested and a partial major DNA profile was found that identified Garner.
Forensics expert Dr. Monte Miller said that while he has not seen the data, a major partial DNA profile could be enough to convict Garner.
“It depends on how much of a partial there is,” Miller explained. “But if he’s a major donor, it makes it a lot easier. And so if they identified him, the DNA is there and they were able to make a match and there’s sufficient DNA that then they’ll be able to identify him, to a degree of scientific certainty.”
According to attorney Megan Kau, prosecuting Garner for Hick’s murder is vital even though he was already sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Cahanes.
“It’s justice for the victim and the victim’s family,” Kau said. “Bringing a prosecution on behalf of the victim’s family often makes you feel like justice has prevailed.”
Kau says a lot of things could go wrong.
“Let’s say for example, the Florida Supreme Court overrules the conviction for some reason and dismisses the case. Now, if the government doesn’t bring the case against that same suspect, the suspect will be let out into the community, and could and probably would re-offend,” Kau explained.
Kau says Garner would still be in custody and would not be let out — even if the Florida case gets dismissed — if he is being held under a detainer on a Hawaii case.
Kau added cold cases can be difficult to crack, but DNA has changed all that. DNA is especially helpful in cases like these where the victim is not able to identify the suspect.
“DNA is extremely helpful because we can rely on the science,” Kau said. “So now, we can identify the perpetrator, we can prosecute the perpetrator and hopefully convict the perpetrator.”