Defendent pleads not guilty in 1989 cold case

REDWOOD CITY (BCN) — A man accused of sexually assaulting and murdering a woman on San Bruno Mountain in 1989 pleaded not guilty in San Mateo County Superior Court Thursday morning.

Two hikers found Shiella Lorraine Hatcher dead in a ravine as a result of blunt force trauma to the head on the evening of March 12, 1989. The case went unsolved for nearly 25 years before it was re-opened at the family’s request in 2013, at which time DNA evidence found on Hatcher’s body connected Gabriel Ray O’Neill, a 45-year-old Brisbane man, to the crime scene.

O’Neill did have sexual contact with the victim, according to defense attorney Geoff Carr, but it was consensual.

Carr said that O’Neill, his then-wife, and two of her brothers were driving high around on PCP before picking Hatcher up. O’Neill and Hatcher had oral sex in a restaurant bathroom before the group went to San Bruno Mountain, according to Carr.

“He admitted having sex with her orally before the incident, but says the person that killed her was his wife’s brother,” Carr said.

“The prosecution thought that because (the defendant’s) DNA was located (at) the scene that solved the case,” Carr said. “They were a little too precipitous.”

Carr identified the individual in question as Richard Solis. Solis is a registered sex offender who was deported in 2008 after being convicted for attempted rape, according to Carr.

“We know Solis was one of the people involved in the event that night,” San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said. “But we believe our evidence is sufficient.”

“We certainly understand how a claim can be made as to where the DNA came from,” Wagstaffe said. “That’s not our only evidence, that’s just the evidence that ties him to being present at the time of her death.”

Carr also disclosed that O’Neill has a prior conviction for statutory rape, but is not a registered sex offender.

O’Neill’s case is scheduled for a jury trial beginning Nov. 30, at 8:30 a.m. He remains in custody on no-bail status, according to prosecutors.

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