SANTA CLARA COUNTY – A Santa Clara County jury on Monday, March 23, convicted a former South Bay man for the rape and first-degree murder of a 17-year-old Campbell girl more than three decades ago.
59-year-old Christopher Melvin Holland now faces possible life in prison without parole when he is sentenced by the Honorable Arthur Bocanegra in the Superior Court of San Jose’s Hall of Justice. With a possible appeal in the works, a scheduling date for his sentencing has not yet been set. Holland has been in prison since 2007 after DNA evidence linked him to the murder of 17-year-old Cynthia Munoz. He was found hiding in his San Jose apartment complex when police arrested him after linking his brother’s Y chromosome DNA to the crime scenes of two rape and stabbing murder victims, which occurred a month apart in 1983.
“Cynthia Munoz’s family has waited 31 years to find justice for her cruel and senseless death,” prosecutor Christopher Walsh said. “Today a jury held Christopher Holland accountable for her murder, and hopefully given Cynthia’s loved ones some measure of peace.”
The District Attorney’s office has worked on bringing Munoz’s killer to justice since her August 7, 1983 brutal rape and murder, where she was found strangled and stabbed to death in the home of her disabled boyfriend in Campbell, just hours after she visited him in the hospital. The physical evidence from the crime scene strongly suggested this was a rape-murder, and DNA evidence from an unidentified person was collected. However, the forensic technology available at the time did not allow for a precise identification. The case was later pulled as a “cold case” in order to conduct DNA testing, and current scientific advancements resulted in the identification of the defendant as the primary suspect.
Although the defendant himself did not provide a DNA sample to Cold Case Investigators, his brother Kenneth provided his own DNA to investigators, which helped link Christopher to the murders. The familial DNA also provided by his half-brother David Pearman led to his own arrest in a 2001 sexual assault case.
The DNA provided by David did not link Christopher to the crime, however, it led authorities to an old rape case in which an 81-year-old San Jose woman was sexually assaulted. That rape had occurred in 2001, when 54-year-old David Leonard Holland, also known as David Pearman, had entered the woman’s home through an open door on October 10 at around 5:00 AM, slipping into her bed and then threatening to kill her if she did not perform sexual acts on him.
Evidence left at the scene and collected was later matched to David Holland, who had called a sex hotline after sexually assaulting and burglarizing the woman. She later died in 2004 of unrelated circumstances. When police were investigating Christopher Holland for the murders of Munoz and 21-year-old Tera Marowski, they were led through a familial DNA search to Christoper’s younger brother David Holland/Pearman. David willingly gave his DNA to detectives to try and match DNA evidence taken at the rape and murder scenes back in 1983. However that is when authorities learned of a new link to the 2001 sexual assault case. David Holland was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2007, that same year his half-brother Christopher Holland was arrested for the murders of the two young female victims.
During Christopher Holland’s trial, four other women had come together to testify against the defendant, who had reportedly choked them while holding a knife on them during their previously unreported rapes.
The defendant is also charged with the 1983 rape and murder of Tara Marowski, a 21-year-old San Jose woman slain four months before Munoz. This charge was severed before trial from the Munoz case, and is currently awaiting a separate trial. Marowski’s decaying nude body was found in the back seat of her 1973 Plymouth Duster on April 2, 1983 in San Jose, just blocks from the City of Campbell.
The killings were similar to the “Gypsy Hill” murders in the 1970’s, as 66-year-old Rodney Halbower was arrested decades later for the rape and stabbing deaths of at least two women in San Mateo County. In January 1976, 18-year-old Veronica Cascio’s body was found on Gypsy Hill Road at the Sharp Park Golf course in Pacifica. Veronica Anne Cascio was also killed nearby around the same time. Paula Louise Baxter, Tatiana Marie Blackwell, Carol Lee Booth, and Denise Lampe were also murdered around the same time in the county, and may also be linked to Halbower.
Halbower told the media that he was surprised to be named the killer. Halbower has denied any involvement in the murder of the two young women found raped and stabbed to death in Millbrae and Pacifica. DNA was collected from cigarette butts found at both murder scenes that linked Halbower to the murders.
All three men have plead not guilty, and deny their guilt in the rape and killings of these women.