Twenty years ago next week, Robert Guevara was acquitted in a Dakota County courtroom of kidnapping, raping and murdering 5-year-old Corrine Erstad, who disappeared out the front door of her Inver Grove Heights home on June 1, 1992, and was never seen alive again.
The case has haunted Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom, who prosecuted it.
Corrine’s body has never been found. Her story has been back in the news recently as searchers hunt for the body of Kira Trevino, a missing 30-year-old St. Paul woman whose husband, Jeffery Trevino, has been charged with her apparent murder.
The Guevara trial changed a lot of lives. Neither Mona Williams, Corrine’s mother, nor Guevara responded to recent requests for interviews.
Backstrom still keeps a framed photo of Corrine next to his desk in his office.
“It’s a terrible tragedy that I was not able to obtain justice for the victim’s family,” he said. “That’s something that will haunt me for the rest of my life. There’s not too many days that I don’t think of this case.”
But, he said, “It’s made me a better prosecutor. I think it’s helped me seek justice in other cases down the road.”
Corrine’s blood-stained sundress, a shower curtain stained with blood and semen, and numerous other pieces of evidence were seized from Guevara’s storage locker and found to be consistent with the DNA of the victim and the defendant.
But, at the time, Minnesota didn’t allow prosecutors to argue that statistically it was almost impossible for the DNA to have come from anyone else.
Not long after the trial, that was changed.
Defense attorney J. Anthony Torres, who evolved from an unknown lawyer to one of the Twin Cities’ most notable criminal defense attorneys, called the case “the defining moment” in his career. He believes the verdicts would be the same today.
The case ultimately became about the credibility of the state’s witnesses, Torres said. The scientific evidence, too, “was open to some interpretation and [jurors] followed the law.”
Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284