Leonard Alex Dominguez struggled with drugs for much of his life. It landed him in jail again and again.
But after submitting a DNA sample to a federal database during a prison stint for marijuana possession in 2005, a darker side surfaced when Dominguez was linked two years later to the cold case killing of Sandra Phillips, a West Los Angeles woman who was found strangled in her apartment in 1979.
On Wednesday, nearly 35 years after the dead woman was found face-down in her bedroom, Dominguez was sentenced to 15 years to life for the 33-year-old's murder. A jury convicted him in November.
Dominguez maintained his innocence and his attorney filed motions for a new trial, contending that evidence that could have cleared his client's name had been lost since the initial investigation. He also argued that a defense expert's testimony skewed the case.
The judge dismissed both motions.
When questioned by detectives not long after he was released from prison, Dominguez said he had met Phillips at an antique store and asked for her phone number to arrange a date.
Phillips, who worked as an escort, had been arrested three times for prostitution and was known to use her apartment to meet clients.
According to Dominguez, he picked her up for a date on a Sunday evening and drove to a motel where they drank and had sex. He said he drove her home and never saw her again.
The prosecutor, though, argued that based on the testimony of neighbors and friends, Phillips was already dead by Sunday morning.
Friends said Phillips spent most of Saturday night at a friend's home and left about midnight, saying that she was going to get a hamburger before heading home.
After not hearing from her that Sunday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jane Creighton said, Phillips' friends became worried and drove to her apartment Monday, finding her dead.
The medical examiner concluded that Phillips had died within two to four hours of eating a meal, most likely the hamburger she ate early Sunday.
"The defendant's statements were his own worst enemy," Creighton said.
Dominguez's attorney, Victor Acevedo, said no one can put his client at the scene of the crime and argued that finding Dominguez's semen on Phillips' body was not enough to send him to prison.
He said someone else could have committed the crime.
Creighton dismissed that theory.
Dominguez's family maintained that he was innocent, saying that he was the kind of person who bought food for poor neighbors and had no history of violent crime.
Dominguez's family said they plan to appeal.