A prosecutor told jurors Friday that the testimony of a man who claims that in his 20s he had “consensual” sex with a 79-year-old woman he is accused of raping and killing is “ridiculous,” like “something out of a stupid letter to Penthouse.”
Andre William Lepere, now 64, was tied by DNA and genetic profiles to the cold-case killing of Viola Hagenkord more than 40 years ago, when the elderly grandmother was gagged and sexually assaulted in the bedroom of her Anaheim apartment. Lepere, of New Mexico, was arrested in the slaying last year.
The fact that semen collected in a rape kit decades ago proves Lepere had sex with the woman more than 50 years his senior within 24 hours of her violent death was not disputed during his Orange County Superior Court trial.
But, said Deputy District Attorney Christopher Alex in his closing argument, “This woman was 79 and a half years old. She was born in the year 1900. She swore off men since before the Great Depression. She wore house dresses since she retired from Gimbel’s. People at the apartment complex called her Grandma… Yet this defendant wants you to believe this woman would have sex with him? “
The prosecutor told jurors that in order to believe Lepere, they would have to accept that within a day of seducing him a second time another man came along to rape and kill Hagenkord in the same bed in the same apartment without leaving any semen.
“That rapist has some nerve,” Alex said, referring to Lepere. “He brutally rapes this woman and then in this courtroom tries to paint her as some sad lonely woman he was doing a favor for by having sex with her. Sadly, that type of victim shaming may work if she is 29. But not 79.”
Lepere’s attorney, Lee Stonum, told jurors that the DNA from the semen in Hagenkord’s body is the sole physical evidence tying Lepere to the scene of the killing. The defense attorney said if Lepere wanted to lie he wouldn’t have claimed to have had two sexual encounters with Hagenkord.
“I believe Andre provided you with a reasonable explanation for the one piece of evidence against him,” Stonum said. “This is not the story you would make up, 42-years later, to get yourself out of trouble.”
Stonum told jurors that DNA not belonging to Lepere was found on the pillowcase used as a gag and said there were other potential suspects, including a man who months later was caught climbing into an apartment window in the same complex and placing his hand over a sleeping woman’s mouth.
The defense attorney also noted that Lepere’s family – including his current wife, a stepson and a sister – all testified that they didn’t believe he was capable of killing someone.
“Every single character witness you heard from said he could not have done this, not in a million years,” Stonum said. “The rape and murder of a 79-year-old is not something that you happen to do as a 22-year-old and then just straighten yourself out.”
Hagenkord – who was born in 1900 and was killed six months shy of her 80th birthday – lived alone in an apartment in the 2500 block of West Winton Road. On Feb. 18, 1980, a neighbor concerned at not having seen her for several days entered Hagenkord’s apartment and found her body.
Hagenkord had been sexually assaulted, her ribs broken and was gagged with a pillowcase, causing her to asphyxiate. Officers saw signs of a struggle but no obvious signs of forced entry. With no eyewitnesses, and DNA testing in its infancy, the case went cold.
In the early 2000s, the county crime lab was able to go back to semen collected in the rape kit and create a DNA profile of the suspect. In 2021, that profile was tied to Lepere through advanced genetic testing.
Lepere’s sister lived at the same apartment complex as Hagenkord at the time of her killing. And authorities learned of allegations of domestic violence during Lepere’s first marriage, which was falling apart at the time of the slaying.
During testimony this week in a Newport Beach courtroom, Lepere said he had two consensual encounters with Hagenkord in her apartment, which he claimed she initiated after describing feeling lonely. Lepere said he regretted the first encounter, but had no doubt it was consensual and agreed to a second.
“Were you sexually excited?” Alex asked about the second alleged sexual encounter.
“I wasn’t excited about this encounter,” Lepere replied.
“But you did it anyway?”
Jury deliberations began Friday and are expected to resume on Tuesday. If convicted, Lepere faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.