The Sarasota Police Department has solved a 35-year-old homicide because of improvements in DNA testing and technology.
Recent advancements in technology allowed investigators to re-examine forensic evidence from the case that was once thought to be unsolvable.
Denise Marie Stafford, who was 28-years-old at the time of her death, was found deceased on October 13, 1985, in the 300 block of Tarpon Avenue, Sarasota.
Sarasota Police detectives at the time believed Denise was home with her child when Denise was killed.
In March 2020, Civilian Investigator Jeff Birdwell, who is assigned to the Sarasota Police Department Criminal Investigations Division, began to look at old evidence to see what could be re-tested using advancements in DNA technology.
Evidence found near Denise at the time of her death, including the pants she was wearing, were sent to multiple agencies including the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and DNA Labs International, for forensic re-testing.
In July 2021, FDLE contacted Civilian Investigator Birdwell about a DNA match found on Denise’s pants. The DNA belonged to Joseph Magaletti, 64.
Magaletti, who died in prison in 2015, was a person of interest in the case in 1985 but was never developed as a suspect.
“It takes a village to solve these cases,” said Civilian Investigator Birdwell. “This is years of work by not only myself but sworn detectives and fellow civilians at the Sarasota Police Department who have a passion to close these cases. Thanks to science and advancements in DNA testing and technology, all cold cases have a chance. We’re not giving up on any case and this case being solved, 35 years later, is a testament to that. The improvement in DNA technology brings new life to old cases,” said Birdwell.
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