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Family Hopes For Justice With Verdict In Nearly 40-Year-Old Oakland Cold Case

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- While so much attention has been focused on the Ghost Ship trial underway at the Alameda County Superior Courthouse in Oakland, a nearly 40-year-old murder case has just landed in the hands of a jury.

"The jury is picking a foreman as we speak," said Joanne Paletta, just one member of the family of Betty Elias now waiting for the verdict.

It's a wait for justice that started in October of 1979.

"She's missed out on my wedding," said Paletta. "Her grandchildren, her great grandchildren that never got a chance to know her."

Betty Jean Elias was found murdered in her motel room on the 1900 block San Pablo Avenue. The building is long gone. At the time, the Bay Area was awash in headline-grabbing crimes. By comparison, the rape and murder of Elias went almost entirely unreported.

"There wasn't a big article in the paper. It wasn't on the news," Palette said. "It's like she was a nobody."

Paletta is Elias's daughter. She spent years asking Oakland police to follow up on the case. When the department used DNA evidence collected at the scene, it lead them to Dennis Ray Eagle in 2016. He was already in federal prison for sexual assault.

Prosecutor Mark Melton said Eagle, who is now 57, should also be convicted of a special circumstance allegation that he murdered Elias during a rape.

Paletta credits Oakland police detectives with assisting in her search for justice.

"I just feel that OPD, believing in me and sending out that DNA...if it wasn't for that, we wouldn't be here," she said.

Now, Paletta and her family are just waiting for a verdict.

"Then I'll finally have justice for my mom, and closure for the family," said. We've waited so long for this."

Jurors deliberated for about half an hour on Thursday and will resume their deliberations on Monday.

Melton said if Eagle is convicted, he wouldn't begin serving his sentence for Elias' death until 2022 because he still has to finish serving the last four years of his sentence for his conviction for his Montana sex crime.

While this case was particularly cold, there are more like it on the docket in Oakland. The deputy district attorney handling the case says he has another DNA-based trial set for next month that dates back to the 1980s.

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