Honolulu trial begins in '89 murder of woman, 81

Honolulu trial begins in '89 murder of woman, 81
Gerald Austin
Gerald Austin

Edith Skinner was 81 years old when she was found dead in her Kalakaua Avenue apartment in the summer of 1989. Deputy prosecutor Scott Bell said DNA evidence proves Gerald Austin had sex with her and strangled her.

"Edith Skinner's killer had been hiding in plain site for more than two decades," he told the jury in Austin's murder trial. "The Honolulu Police Department will testify that there is a perfect match between that unknown male profile on that vaginal swab that was recovered in 1989 and the defendant's profile."

The case went cold and cops classified it an unattended death. Back then HPD had no DNA lab and no suspects. But in 2011 the FBI found that the swab from Skinner matched Austin's DNA. His sample was in the database for another case, and police arrested him in January 2012.

Deputy public defender Edward Aquino said the state's case only proves one thing.

"Truth is stranger than fiction," he told the court. "At best what the evidence will show you is there was sexual contact between Gerald Austin and Edith Skinner. But the evidence will not show you that he killed her. The evidence will not show you that he strangled her."

Skinner lived in the Makua Alii senior housing complex. Her apartment was on the seventh floor. Her body was found on her bed. The medical examiner also found a single hair.

"That one dark hair stood out to her trained eye. It was obvious that that hair did not belong to Edith Skinner," Bell said.

When he was arrested Austin denied knowing Skinner or going into her apartment. Bell said he could easily get into the building because his grandmother lived there.

"Once a visitor was buzzed into that building that visitor had access to all floors of the building," he said.

Austin has eight convictions on his record. He was once sentenced for burglary. His public defender insists he is not a killer.

"Gerald Austin did not kill Edith Skinner on July 25, 1989," Aquino said.

Bell said science will prove otherwise.

"One male. One donor. One source," he said.

Austin is now 52 years old. He was 28 when Edith Skinner was murdered.

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