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Man convicted in Texas City girl's 1996 slaying

Cindy Horswel, Houston Chronicle
Updated 11:25 pm, Thursday, April 26, 2012

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  • Krystal Jean Baker, 13, was last seen walking from her grandmother's house in Texas City in 1996. / Handout

    Krystal Jean Baker, 13, was last seen walking from her grandmother's house in Texas City in 1996.

    Photo: Handout

 

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In less than 30 minutes, jurors in a Chambers County district courtroom on Thursday convicted a itinerant refinery welder in the rape and strangulation of a teen girl whose case was among more than two dozen unsolved murders of young girls from the Houston area between 1984 to 1996 that continue to fill cold case files and stump detectives.

Kevin Edison Smith, 45, was convicted of capital murder in the death of 13-year-old Krystal Baker, whose body was found dumped under a Chambers County bridge over the Trinity River in 1996.

Her killer was identified when a Chambers County sheriff's officer took her dress from a dusty evidence envelope and resubmitted it for analysis. New technology detected a semen stain that provided a DNA specimen that matched another specimen Smith had submitted after a minor drug arrest in Louisiana in 2010.

On Thursday, Smith received an automatic life sentence. Prosecutors said they did not seek the death penalty because they want to talk to Smith about the remaining unsolved murders.

Like many of the victims, Krystal was plucked from a public street. She was leaving her grandmother's Texas City home and walking to a convenience store to telephone a friend to get a ride on March 5, 1996.

Similarly, 16-year-old Laura Miller — whose father, Tim, later launched an international missing person search organization - vanished after walking to a League City convenience store to make a telephone call in 1984. Her body was found in a scrubby pasture in League City that came to be known as "The Killing Field" — used as the basis for a Hollywood movie this year. The nude bodies of four women were found there between 1984 and 1997. None have ever been resolved and one of the victims remains unidentified.

Other cases that remain unsolved include:

Laura Smither, 12, abducted while jogging near her Friendswood home and found dead by a retention pond in Pasadena. Her family started a program that searches for the missing.

Jessica Cain, 17, of Tiki Island, whose body has never been found. Her truck, with her wallet on the front seat, was found abandoned a few miles from her home.

cindy.horswell@chron.com