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DNA Ties Convicted Sex Offender To 1996 Cold Case Killing Of California Waitress
Advances in DNA technology helped identity the person who asphyxiated Priscilla Lewis beneath a Northern California pizza restaurant 25 years ago.
A currently incarcerated California man was pinpointed as the suspected killer of a waitress whose drowning murder bewildered authorities for 25 years, officials announced this week.
Danny Lamont Hamilton, 51, was charged on Thursday with the 1996 murder and attempted rape of Priscilla Lewis. Authorities said DNA evidence connected him to the cold case.
A cook found Lewis’ body in the basement bathroom of Four Corners Pizza in Crockett, California around 10:30 p.m. on Sept. 24, 1996. Lewis, who was 21 at the time, worked as a waitress at the restaurant.
Her cause of death was determined to be asphyxia due to drowning and strangulation, according to authorities.
The restaurant’s bathrooms were located in the basement of Valona Square Mall and were used by a total of four different businesses at the time. Dozens of individuals were interviewed by law enforcement in their search for Lewis’ killer.
The trail, however, ultimately went cold — and for decades, the case remained open and unsolved.
Over the years, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, the case’s lead investigative body, had forensically analyzed several pieces of evidence in the crime to no avail.
Then in 2020, detectives received their first big break in the cold case. After submitting additional evidence to crime lab experts, a DNA match came back that linked Hamilton to Lewis’ murder.
Hamilton, investigators learned, was already serving a 295-year sentence at a state prison outside San Diego on sexual assault charges unrelated to Lewis' murder.
He had been arrested on those charges in 1999 and would have been eligible for parole in 2029.
The now-51 year-old currently faces a series of murder charges with enhancements in Lewis’ 1996 slaying, including murder by lying in wait, felony murder kidnapping, felony murder burglary and felony murder enumerated sex offense.
“I would like to recognize the many Sheriff’s Office homicide detectives and crime lab staff for their dedication and relentless work in the murder of Priscilla Lewis in 1996,” said Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston. “We continue to investigate unsolved homicides in an effort to provide families, like that of Priscilla Lewis, with answers and some closure and to hold suspects accountable.”
Authorities declined to release additional information pertaining to the open case this week. A court date hasn’t yet been set for a possible trial into Lewis’ murder.
“The charged defendant, Danny Hamilton, is currently in state prison,” Simon O’Connell, Chief Assistant District Attorney for the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement sent to Oxyen.com on Friday. “As such, there is no pending court date at this time. Once transported to local custody in Contra Costa, proceedings will commence.”
For years, Lewis’ family were tormented by the fact that no arrests were ever made in the 21-year-old restaurant worker’s unsolved murder.
“I was across the street, at the bar drinking and had seen her on her break,” her cousin Troy Kinslow told the Associated Press. “And the next morning I went to the store to get something to drink and a friend said, ‘You heard about her?’”
In recent years, Kinslow said he’s pressured local law enforcement to renew their investigation into his cousin’s killing.
“It’s been a long process and it’s been very tiring emotionally and physically but I never gave up,” he added.