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A trial of a man accused of brutally murdering a teenager more than four decades ago is nearing an end.
John M. Sauberan, 63, was charged in 2020 for the 1978 murder of bartending student Linda Tschari, 19, who was found “butchered” in a cottage behind her family’s Buffalo home, according to the Buffalo News. Officials say DNA linked Sauberan to blood found at the crime scene, believed to be from an accidental cut during the vicious attack.
“He was banking he would get away with murder, and for 44 years, he has,” said Erie County Assistant District Attorney Ashley Morgan in her opening statements. “Until now.”
Prosecutors rested their case on Wednesday, the defense doing the same the following day. Both sides are scheduled to deliver their closing arguments on Tuesday before the Erie County jury begins deliberations.
On the morning of Feb. 8, 1978, Tschari’s then-18-year-old brother found her face-down in a pool of blood in the living room of the West Side carriage house. Tschari lived alone in the dwelling behind the family’s larger home, which was occupied by her mother and brother.
Investigators said Tschari was stabbed and slashed "multiple times” while in bed and is believed to have been caught by surprise when the attack began.
The city of Buffalo had just been released from the grips of a historic blizzard, and when police arrived, they found a trail of blood in the snow leading away from the cottage. According to the Buffalo News, drops of the suspect’s blood were found in several rooms and even on a Grand Funk Railroad vinyl album cover.
Operating under the theory that the killer wounded himself, investigators alerted local hospitals and doctors’ offices in hopes of finding someone who could have sought treatment for a knife injury.
However, the line of inquiry reportedly yielded no results, and eventually, the case grew cold.
An investigation was renewed in 2006 following the formation of the cold case unit within the Buffalo Police Department. In 2007, the suspect’s blood samples were analyzed by the Erie County Central Police Services laboratory, though at the time, data taken from the DNA profile could not be submitted into a national database, according to ADA Morgan.
A new look at the physical evidence in 2019 helped scientific experts match the DNA to John Sauberan, whom Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn referred to as a “drifter,” per the Buffalo News.
Matching the suspect’s DNA to Sauberan was possible because he had previously been arrested in Oregon in 2008, which required him to submit his DNA.
Sauberan reportedly lived in many places around the country, including Oregon, Florida and Georgia. At the time of Tschari’s murder, he allegedly lived near Buffalo's Elmwood Avenue and Bird Avenue, about half a mile from Tschari’s home.
Sauberan was arrested in March 2020 for second-degree murder and pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Soon after his arrest, Sauberan’s attorney, Paul G. Dell, challenged the accuracy of the DNA samples, which were kept under lock and key for the better part of four decades.
“My client denies having anything to do with her murder. He did not know this young woman,” Dell previously told the Buffalo outlet. “Our position is that DNA samples found at the murder scene 42 years ago have degraded to the point that there is not sufficient evidence to prove John was there.”
Dell also denounced the prosecution’s portrayal of Sauberan as a “drifter” because it implied the defendant left town to avoid investigation when, according to Dell, Sauberan lived in Buffalo until 1990.
During the trial, parties on both sides battled over how much of Sauberan’s criminal history should be introduced as evidence. Erie County Court Judge Shiela DiTullio previously prohibited prosecutors from entering his record into court, though witnesses alluded to some of Sauberan’s alleged crimes while on the stand.
Buffalo Police Detective Mary Evans testified that the defendant, who allegedly went by the name “Chief” or “Chief the Thief” (a nod to Sauberan’s Native American heritage), reportedly bragged about residential burglaries and bicycle thefts.
The trial will continue into next week. If convicted, Sauberan faces 25 years to life in state prison.
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