Guilty plea in the murder of a young couple on Christmas Eve 1998

Monday, November 21, 2016

Jason Richard Preston pleaded guilty in the murder of a young couple on Christmas Eve 1998, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Monday.

Preston, 37, pleaded guilty Monday afternoon to a count each of second-degree murder for killing Dustin Baity and Carrie Richter. As part of the plea agreement, four counts of first-degree murder were dismissed and he is expected to receive 24 years in prison on each count, for a total of 48 years when he is sentenced Jan. 6.

Under questioning from his attorney, Preston admitted he went to the couple’s apartment at 1010 23rd Ave. NE on Dec. 24, 1998. He and Baity got into an argument over a drug debt and as it escalated Preston grabbed a cord of some sort and strangled the smaller man. Shortly after that, Richter came out of another room and she was stabbed repeatedly, he admitted.

However, in a surprise, Preston admitted only to helping another person stab Richter to death. When pressed by assistant Hennepin County Attorney Steve Redding, Preston said Richter struggled and he held her so the other person could stab her.

“We are very satisfied with Mr. Preston’s plea and the fact that he will receive a very long prison sentence,” Freeman said. “Based on DNA results, and the fact that he never mentioned an accomplice until today, we are quite certain we have the only killer of this young couple who were starting out their lives together. This was good work by Minneapolis police, the FBI and our prosecutors to solve this mystery.”

The 18-year-old Richter and 20-year-old Baity worked at a glass factory and had moved in together. The case had remained unsolved until a federal grant for the police department, and later, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office in 2009, paid for DNA testing in cold cases. In 1999, some evidence from the scene was tested but only the victim’s DNA was found. In early 2010, police took 13 items to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for further DNA testing and the lab found a drop of blood from an unknown man.

Year after year, that DNA profile was checked against state and national DNA databases until a match was made to Preston in March 2013. He was serving 39 years in prison for a California robbery. In 2014, a Hennepin County Grand Jury returned the indictment against Preston.

At the end of the hearing, Preston asked to address the members of the two families in the courtroom.

“I am truly sorry and sorry for their loss,” Preston said. “I just pray they have some closure today.”