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California

Man serving life sentence for raping and killing San Bernardino 9-year-old charged with murder in second cold case

Dean Eric Dunlap, 57, was convicted in 2005 of kidnapping, raping, and killing 9-year-old Sandra Astorga in January 1992. Using his DNA, he has been linked to another murder.

It took several days to find the body of Cynthia White, who was strangled in San Bernardino County in 1991.

When her former boyfriend discovered her on the night of May 27, 1991, in the Devore home she had inherited from her father, investigators thought she had been dead for a week.

But tracking down her suspected killer took far longer, and the case grew cold by 1993. 

On Tuesday, after more than a quarter of a century, prosecutors charged a man already on death row with the murder of White, who was known as “C.J.”

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Dean Eric Dunlap, 57, has been in San Quentin State Prison since he was convicted in 2005 of killing, raping and kidnapping 9-year-old Sandra Astorga in January 1992.

The conviction made him the first man in San Bernardino County to be sentenced to death because of evidence uncovered through California’s DNA database.

Now, DNA has proved crucial to tying him to another cold case, authorities said.

Detectives from the county’s Sheriff’s Department reviewed White’s case in 2012 and submitted additional evidence for DNA analysis.

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The next year, the state Department of Justice database registered a match with Dunlap. It’s unclear what evidence contained Dunlap’s DNA.

Dunlap had provided a blood sample to authorities in 1996, when he was paroled after serving a prison term for sexual assault.

That sample was used to tie him to semen found on Sandra’s underwear, T-shirt and shorts. 

The young girl was walking to Roosevelt Elementary School in January 1992 and vanished. A hiker found her body weeks later, covered by a bedspread and oily tarp in a field near Devore. 

In 1999, the fluids on her clothing matched DNA that Dunlap had provided. In 2005, jurors convicted Dunlap of first-degree murder, kidnapping, forcible rape and committing a forcible lewd act upon a child, along with three special circumstances that left him eligible for the death penalty.

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White was known as a likable young woman who frequently held barbecues and parties at her home, the San Bernardino Sun reported shortly after her death. Her father had died of cancer and bequeathed his Devore home to her in 1988.

She often went to the Screaming Chicken Saloon and would pay for drinks for friends, the bar’s owner told the newspaper. White also worked at a convenience store.

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“She was a good little worker, very sweet,” co-worker Sigrid Townley told the Sun. “The customers all liked her. And that’s what counted.”

Dunlap is expected to be transferred from San Quentin to custody in San Bernardino County. 

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno.

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