WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) - A man serving time on a drunken driving conviction was sentenced to 40 years in prison Tuesday for the second of two unsolved murders from 1978. Last week, he was sentenced in the other murder.
Benny Tijerina, 53, pleaded guilty and will serve the two 40-year sentences at the same time. He was linked to the November 1978 killings of Frank Kevin Key and Rita Salazar when Texas prison officials drew DNA samples after he was sentenced in the DWI charge in 2007 .
"It is just like a monster," said Geraldine Key, who's son met his demise at Tijerina's hand. "There is no way to describe someone who robs and rape and murder.
According to Williamson County officials, Key and Salazar were two teenagers on a date at Austin's Highland Mall movie theater on Nov. 5, 1978. They never arrived back to their homes.
Key's car was discovered in Round Rock the following day. His body, which had several bullet wounds, was found north of Georgetown.
One day later, Salazar's body, which also had several bullet wounds, was found on the east side of Interstate 35 in McLennan County. There also was evidence suggesting Salazar had been sexually assaulted.
"They watched a murder movie, Midnight Express, on top of that and ended up with that happening," Key added.
In 2000, the Williamson County Sheriff's Office requested testing of DNA material found on Salazar's undergarments. A profile was developed, and the unknown profile of an unknown man was entered into a national DNA database.
When Tijerina entered the prison system, he was required to submit a DNA sample. His profile matched that in the database from Salazar's clothing.
"The families of these two victims finally know the truth," said District Attorney John Bradley.
"In a way, there is closure. But, in another way, there isn't. The pain is always there, especially when you are missing them around the holidays," Key said.
In a case that saw many ups and downs, including a serial killer falsely taking credit, it ended with a twist.
In court Tuesday, Tijerina told the judge he was not the trigger man but an accomplice in both murders. His accomplice or accomplices were not named.
Key believes at least one more person was involved.
Attorney say that part of the case remains under investigation.
Despite it being mentioned Tijerina was using drugs and alcohol at the times of the murders, a motive was never revealed.
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