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Strong found guilty in murder trial
A judge found Preston Strong guilty of two counts of first-degree murder Thursday in the murder of Dr. Satinder Gill nearly five years ago.
Yuma County Superior Court Judge John Nelson, who presided over the 39-day bench trial, also convicted Strong on one count of kidnapping, one count of armed robbery, one count of burglary, two counts of aggravated assault and one count of attempted arson.
Strong showed no reaction as the judge read his verdicts. After both the prosecution and defense had presented their closing arguments, Nelson took a short recess before returning to the courtroom with his verdicts.
A Yuma County sheriff’s deputy placed handcuffs on Strong after the verdicts were read and led him out of the courtroom. Gill’s family members were visibly overjoyed, wiping away tears and hugging one another once court had adjourned. His sentencing has been set for Nov. 16 at 1:30 p.m.
The 62-year-old Gill was found dead inside his home at 4596 W. La Quinta Loop on Nov. 2, 2007. He had been suffocated and had blunt-force trauma to his head. A large sum of money was missing.
During its investigation, Yuma police detectives confirmed that Strong was in possession of a large sum of money immediately after Gill’s death. Detectives were able to track his movements immediately before and after Gill’s death, but his whereabouts during the death were unknown.
During her closing arguments, defense attorney Kristi Riggins said the case against her client was filled with speculations and assumptions.
"There are a myriad of reasons to doubt that Preston Strong had anything to do with what happened to Dr. Gill," Riggins said. "The state has spent an incredible amount of time engaging in character assassination of my client."
Riggins told the judge that the prosecution had no physical evidence or witnesses that connected Strong to the murder, that he had alibis during key times when the murder was supposed to be happening, some of the stolen money is unaccounted for and that it was possible for cellphone calls to connect to a tower even though it wasn’t the closest one.
Most importantly, Riggins said, DNA found on the cloth belt used to strangle Gill did not belong to her client, it belonged to someone else.
"This by itself is powerful reasonable doubt. The killer is out there, judge."
Prosecutor William Katz, during his closing remarks, told the judge the case was about greed, anger and jealousy. He said that within hours of the murder, Strong had a large amount of money in $50 bills still in bank wrappers, he missed 31 cellphone calls during a three-hour period when the murder was to have occurred and that cellphone calls Strong made before and after the murder connected to a cellphone tower near Gill’s home.
"(Strong) has to be the unluckiest man in the world for all these factors to collide and come together," Katz said.