VISALIA — DNA evidence helped identify and convict Steven Walter Gomez more than 25 years after he raped and murdered Dixie Lee Ricks of Visalia.
On Feb. 23, Superior Court Judge Gerald Sevier sentenced Gomez to life in prison without the possibility of parole. A jury found Gomez guilty of the crime in January, said Shani Jenkins, assistant district attorney.
Ricks was last seen by her husband Frank Ricks on Jan. 28, 1985, when he dropped her off at Shannon’s Bar in Visalia. Her body was discovered the next day with signs of sexual assault. There were no leads and the case went cold for more than a dozen years.
“Investigators requested the Department of Justice analyze the evidence to develop a possible suspect DNA profile,” Jenkins said.
In 2001, the Department of Justice DNA laboratory in Fresno was able to obtain a DNA profile from sperm located during the collection of evidence. That profile was sent to a national database which is kept on unsolved cases.
In March 2007, detectives from the Visalia Police Department were notified Gomez was matched to the evidence. Gomez, a 65-year-old Visalia resident, had been previously required to provide DNA when registering for a 1963 assault with intent to commit rape conviction in Lindsay. An additional investigation also revealed a second conviction in Tulare for a robbery in 1976 that also had sexual overtones, Jenkins said.
Gomez had been sentenced to the California Youth Authority on the 1963 case, later receiving a life sentence for the 1976 robbery from which he had been paroled at the time he murdered Dixie Ricks.