Man convicted in 1986 cold case killing found dead at California prison

Man convicted in 1986 cold case killing found dead at California prison
Larry T. Hite, 59, was found dead Tuesday morning in his cell at Kern Valley State Prison, state correctional officials said. (San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office)

A man convicted this summer in the 1986 slaying of a San Bernardino County woman was found dead Tuesday morning in his prison cell, and correctional officials suspect he was killed by his cellmate.

Larry T. Hite, 59, was found unresponsive shortly after 6:30 a.m. at Kern Valley State Prison and was declared dead about an hour later, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


Staff members at the prison in Delano had attempted to revive him but were unsuccessful, according to a statement released by state corrections officials.

Investigators suspect Hite was killed by his cellmate, Travis Smoot, 25, a Kern County man serving a four-year sentence for a conviction on an assault with a deadly weapon charge, prison officials said.

Hite was transferred to the prison in October following his July conviction of first-degree murder in the death of Nancy Klinger, according to the San Bernardino County district attorney's office.

On Aug. 29, 1986, Klinger had dropped off her three children with a babysitter to go on a date with Hite. She was never seen alive again.

About two years later, her skeletal remains were recovered in a dirt field in East Highland, prosecutors said. Klinger was identified with the help of dental records.

After Klinger's death, investigators suspected Hite but could not definitively link him to the case, prosecutors said.

He later moved to Arizona, where he was convicted of assaulting two women. He was released from prison and returned to Riverside.

In 2009, cold case investigators reviewed Klinger's death and interviewed Hite. He confessed to the crime, prosecutors said.

When San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Jefferson Powell sentenced Hite to 25 years to life on Sept. 11, Klinger's son submitted a written statement detailing the pain wrought by his mother's death. The statement was read aloud in court by a county prosecutor.

"During the trial I saw him smile, laugh and joke while I sat quietly there listening about the last moments of my mom's life and how her blood was on his clothes. He showed no remorse," Douglas McGraw said of Hite.

"He belongs behind bars for the rest of his life and maybe the rest of us can sleep at night knowing he is in a place where he can't harm any other women and no one else's life has to be ruined."

McGraw added: "He is a real-life monster."

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno.