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Missouri Sheriff Reopening 1997 Murder of Teenager

Associated Press
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Photo: Spencer Weiner-Pool/Getty Images

Photo: Spencer Weiner-Pool/Getty Images

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) – A southwest Missouri sheriff said he will reopen an investigation into a Springfield girl’s death in 1977 that is linked to a man who was executed Thursday in Texas.

Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott announced Thursday he wanted to pursue answers to some questions that linger in the death of Stephanie Mahaney, a 13-year-old who disappeared from her Springfield apartment in October 1997. Her body was found in a Greene County pond a month later.

Arnott, who was the first officer on the scene when Mahaney’s body was found, said he interviewed Tommy Lynn Sells this week on death row in Texas, The Springfield News-Leader reported.

Sells was indicted in Mahaney’s death but was not prosecuted in Missouri while other states pursued cases against him. Sells was executed for fatally stabbing a 13-year-old South Texas girl in 1999, claimed to have committed as many as 70 killings across the U.S., including two others in the Ozarks.

Arnott said the interview prompted him to review some facts in the case. Arnott interviewed Sells more than a decade ago and said he wanted to question him one more time before he was put to death, in the hope that he would tell the complete truth about Mahaney’s death.

During the 2002 interview, Arnott asked Sells eight specific points about Mahaney’s death. He asked Sells the same eight questions this week and got different answers to two of them, he said.

Arnott said he’s carried a picture of Mahaney every day since her death and has personally followed more than 100 leads in her case. He and another investigator will begin working the case again Monday.

Mahaney’s mother, Suzette Martin, said Thursday she believed Sells deserved to die, regardless of her daughter’s case being reopened.

“As far as Sells goes, he deserves what’s he’s getting today,” Martin said Thursday. “I look at it like a big puzzle. It’s been years and this piece is finally going to fit in for a lot of people. Not just me.”

Even if Arnott’s questions on the case are answered, he doesn’t expect it to provide much closure.

“I’ve had two homicide cases that have ended with life in prison,” he said. “Those don’t feel like successful resolutions. I don’t think there is such a thing as a successful resolution in a case like this.”

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