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42 years after dual murders, ‘Gypsy Hill’ killer, rapist sentenced to life

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A man convicted in the decades-old cold case murders of two teenage girls in San Mateo County will likely spend the rest of his life in prison, prosecutors said.

Rodney Halbower, 70, was sentenced this morning to life in prison for raping and killing 17-year-old Paula Baxter and 18-year-old Veronica Cascio in 1976.

Cascio was found stabbed to death at the Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica in January 1976. That February, Baxter’s body was found in some brush behind a church in Millbrae. She had been stabbed and beaten to death with a concrete block.

The murders, known as the “Gypsy Hill” killings, went cold and remained unsolved until 2014. That’s when investigators used DNA evidence to link Halbower to the rapes and killings.

Authorities extradited him to California from Oregon, where he was already in prison for attempted murder.

He went on trial in San Mateo County Superior Court and was convicted Sept. 18. The jury deliberated for a little more than an hour before finding him guilty.

He was sentenced Wednesday to two life sentences that will run concurrently, which essentially means a single life sentence.

But first, he’s headed back to Oregon to serve out the rest of a more than 30-year sentence, according to Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher. If he’s still alive, he will then be sent back to California for his sentence here.

While he could eventually be eligible for parole, Gallagher said the chances of Halbower being released are next to nothing:

Gallagher, who prosecuted the case, said:

“He will never see the light of day again. … This guy is the real deal. He’s a real serial rapist, real serial killer.”

But Halbower’s defense attorney John Halley said he plans to appeal the convictions.

Halbower made repeated outbursts during the trial that demonstrated he was mentally ill, Halley said.

“He was acting against his own interest and was making statements that were damaging to him,” he said.

Halley also said evidence showing that there was another car at the scene of one of the murders should not have been excluded from the trial.

During the trial, the judge denied Halley’s request for a mistrial. A different court-appointed attorney will work on Halbower’s appeal, Halley said.

The mothers of both victims spoke at this morning’s sentencing. Gallagher said the victims’ family members had already started feeling closure when Halbower became a suspect four years ago.

He was arrested with help from advances in DNA technology, which Gallagher applauded:

“Criminals should know that with the advances in science, cases never end. They can always potentially be solved.”

DNA evidence has also linked Halbower to the stabbing death of Reno, Nevada student Michelle Mitchell, according to Gallagher.

He said he hopes prosecutors in Nevada will pursue charges in that case as well.

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