SALT LAKE CITY — When Debbie Troska woke up on April 6, 1989, she discovered that her daughter had not come home the night before.
She last saw her daughter getting ready with her friend, Tonya Lynn Lucero, and a male friend of the teens the night before, she testified.
Troska asked the male friend, who was going to drive the girls to the Cushion N' Cue, to take her home at the end of the night. He promised that he would.
Troska scribbled a note to her daughter on April 6, asking her to clean the apartment, and left for work. Police contacted Troska later that day and showed her a picture of her daughter with her eyes closed and a sheet up to her neck. Troska's first reaction was to wonder where the police had gotten a picture of her sleeping daughter.
"I just could not comprehend that she was gone," Troska testified.
Following testimony Thursday and Friday, 3rd District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills ordered Thomas Evan Noffsinger, 46, to stand trial for aggravated murder, rape and forcible sodomy, all first-degree felonies, in the teenager's 1989 death.
In an initial interview with Noffsinger at the prison in 2012, Unified police detective Todd Park asked Noffsinger if he was at the Cushion N' Cue on April 5, 1989. Noffsinger said he did not think he was there that night.
Park said he then had Noffsinger read a letter that announced that Noffsinger's DNA profile matched the DNA that was found on 17-year-old Felicia Pappas' body. He said Noffsinger did not know how his DNA got on the teen.
Noffsinger also told Park that he would have remembered at least part of an attack if he had been under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
"His comment most of the time was, “No. No. No. That’s not me. That’s not me,” Park testified Friday. “That’s not the response I was expecting from somebody who hadn’t done this.”
Park took an additional DNA sample from Noffsinger. After the sample turned out to match the samples from Pappas' body, Park returned to the prison with prosecutor Vincent Meister.
When asked how he had come across Pappas the night of her death, he said he did not know.
“I feel that someone that hadn’t done this would not respond that way. They would respond, 'I didn't,'” Park said.
Noffsinger talked to the investigators about a family who had judged him. The men responded by saying that Noffsinger had judged Felicia and her punishment was death.
"He said, 'Yeah,'" Park testified, adding that Noffsinger also nodded in the affirmative.
Park said he asked Noffsinger what he should tell Pappas' mother: that he did not kill her daughter, that he could not remember whether or not he did, or that he did not do it. He said Noffsinger did not pick an option.
Instead, he said to say "that he's sorry for her loss; however, he doesn't recall doing that," Park said, reading from a transcript of the interview.
Noffsinger is currently serving a life sentence for the 1990 brutal stabbing death of Marie Callender's chef Victor Aguilar during a burglary at the downtown restaurant. He is also a person of interest in the 1989 disappearance of Sandy resident Annette Hill, 38.
Park is one of 82 worldwide members of the Vidocq Society, an invitation-only organization for experts in solving cold-case crimes.
It's very hard to see and hear that evidence, but it's the beginning of closure.
–Marita Visell, family friend
In October 2010, Park held a cold-case summit for detectives around the country. He presented Pappas' case as part of the summit and was given a lead to a suspect in the case as well as information on biological samples that were available in the state crime lab.
He reopened the case with the hope that the biological evidence or suspect would provide additional answers.
The suspect's DNA profile did not match the samples, but eventually a match was found between Noffsinger's profile and the DNA profile from the samples at the state crime laboratory.
On Thursday, Chad Grundy, forensic scientist manager for the Utah State Crime Laboratory, testified that DNA matching Noffsinger's DNA profile was found in samples taken from Pappas' body. The likelihood that the match was false is within the high quintillions, he said.
A handful of family and friends dabbed tears from their eyes while photos of Pappas' body were displayed. One woman turned her head, cupping a hand near her eye to shield it from the photo being displayed.
"It's very hard to see and hear that evidence, but it's the beginning of closure," family friend Marita Viselli said after the hearing Friday.
Felicia was killed near the end of her junior year of high school. She wanted to go to college but had no set plans.
"She certainly wasn't expecting that she wouldn't have a life," Viselli said.
Noffsinger was ordered to return to court on Dec. 6 for an arraignment.