OKLAHOMA CITY - Years after the case surrounding the disappearance of a Midwest City girl went cold, an Oklahoma County jury found her neighbor guilty of her murder.
Anthony Palma, 58, was convicted of first-degree murder of Kirsten Hatfield after a little more than an hour of jury deliberation Friday afternoon.
Eight-year-old Kirsten Hatfield went missing from her Midwest City home in May 1997. She was never found and the case went cold. However, prosecutors filed murder charges against Palma in 2015, after linking DNA found on a pair of Hatfield's blood-stained underwear matched Palma.
Palma was silent as he was led from the courtroom in handcuffs, all while dozens of supporters of Hatfield's family gathered outside the courtroom.
"We are just— I can’t explain it, we are just floored by this miracle and we are so thankful and it puts our hope back into the criminal justice system," said Hatfield's mother, Shannon Hazen, choking up as she spoke with reporters after the verdict came down.
"We are so thankful to God. This is nothing short of an answered prayer. Obviously I have to thank all the men and the women, who have brought incredible integrity to a— what we always thought was a hopeful situation."
The DNA evidence was key to prosecutors case against Palma, as Hatfield's body has never been found.
"But the jury gets this, and the sad, awful truth is she’s been gone 20 years. She disappeared wearing only a t-shirt and panties, and a short time after that her panties were ripped from her, carrying Tony Palma’s blood," said Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Scott Rowland after the jury's verdict.
"It’s of precious little value, I suspect, that the family — who will never have this precious girl again — but at least they have some legal finality. At least Anthony Palma has had his day of reckoning and has had to answer for this terrible, terrible crime."
The jury recommended Palma serve life in prison, without the possibility of parole. A sentencing hearing is schedule for November 27.