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Man charged in 1982 killing of 13-year-old gets 7-year sentence

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 3/18/2017 Bruce Vielmetti

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MILWAUKEE — A man charged 33 years after police say he killed 13-year-old Carrie Ann Jopek and hid her body under a neighbor's porch was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison, the maximum term for a pair of lesser offenses.

"The enduring tragedy is that the whole truth may never be known," Assistant District Attorney Karl Hayes said. "It's one of those bitter pills life gives us sometimes."

At the start of his murder trial in January, Jose Ferreira Jr., 51, worked out a deal to plead guilty to attempted second-degree sexual assault, with the use of force, and false imprisonment, both as a party to the crimes.

Circuit Judge Jeffry Conen imposed the maximum five years on the attempted sex assault and two years on the false imprisonment, to be served consecutively. The sentence came 35 years and a day after Jopek disappeared without a trace.

"I can't take back how it happened. I'm sorry," Ferreira said in a very brief statement that left decades of questions unanswered.

Jopek's parents, Carolyn and Frederick Tousignant, said they understood the problems facing the prosecution of such an old case and were satisfied with the outcome.

"Now she can rest," said Carolyn Tousignant, holding Carrie's seventh-grade school photo. "Now we can all rest."

Hayes told Conen that the case had long suffered from "a paucity of evidence, a paucity of facts," due to the late start of the investigation, its on-and-off nature, and even the death of some investigators.

© Provided by USA Today Ferreira was finally charged in October 2015 with the second-degree murder of Jopek after he confessed to a crisis line counselor, a TV station and his wife. Long a suspect in Jopek's death, he made further admissions to detectives after his arrest.

His attorney, Caitlin Firer, said Friday that Ferreira suffered from various mental illnesses and thought the notoriety of confessing might bring back his wife, who had said she was filing for divorce.

Jopek disappeared March 16, 1982, after skipping school to attend a party at a neighbor's house with other young people. Some thought she had run away from home, but her badly decomposed remains were found buried under a porch at the party house 17 months later by a carpenter doing remodeling work.

Ferreira had long been among the suspects. At the time, he told a detective he was watching when the carpenter found the remains. He said he saw the teen who hosted the party, who was standing in the backyard, vomit. Someone else said that after news of the grisly discovery died down, they saw Ferreira kneeling near the site, crying as he apologized to Jopek. But he was never charged until his admissions in 2015.

Last year, his attorneys began trying to establish a defense that someone else at the party may have killed Jopek. One man testified at a hearing that his girlfriend at the time, Jopek's best friend, had told him her older brother John Mandt was responsible.

A Jose E. Ferreira (left) was charged in 2015 with killing Carrie Ann Jopek (right), 13, in 1982. © file Jose E. Ferreira (left) was charged in 2015 with killing Carrie Ann Jopek (right), 13, in 1982. t a court hearing, Mandt declined to answer questions on the advice of his lawyer. His sister Robin, who had also been subpoenaed by the defense but wasn't called as a witness, told a reporter she never told anyone her brother had killed Jopek and said her long-ago boyfriend's claim was likely his effort to get out of prison on unrelated charges.

Ferreira told detectives he was hoping to make out with Jopek at the party, and they began to go to the basement when she had second thoughts. That's when, Ferreira said, he pushed Jopek and she tumbled down the steps. When he found her unconscious at the bottom, he groped her breasts. When he tried to pick her up, he said, he realized her neck was broken.

That's when, according to the complaint, he hauled her through the basement to an exterior cellar door, and access to space under the rear porch. In less than an hour, he had dug a 2-foot deep hole and buried Jopek.

Hayes said one evidence problem is that the current medical examiner, after reviewing the 1983 autopsy, concluded a neck injury to Jopek was more likely the result of being struck from behind with a heavy object than from falling down stairs.

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