Man pleads not guilty to killing National City convenience store clerk in 1974

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – A 68-year-old Las Vegas man accused of fatally stabbing a National City convenience store clerk nearly a half-century ago pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a murder charge.

Carlin Edward Cornett, who was arrested at his Las Vegas home last month, is accused in the July 31, 1974, killing of 22-year-old Christy Ellen Bryant.

He was extradited to San Diego and booked into the downtown jail on Monday, according to county jail records. He remained held without bail following Wednesday’s arraignment.

Cornett faces eight years to life in state prison if convicted of murder, plus an allegation of using a knife in the killing. Though murder convictions currently carry a much higher potential sentence, Cornett faces the penalty he would have faced in 1974 under California law at the time.

Bryant was stabbed to death while working alone at a 7-Eleven at 702 Highland Ave., according to National City police. A Domino’s Pizza restaurant is there now.

The case went cold after exhaustive measures by law enforcement failed to identify the suspect, according to Lt. Derek Aydelotte of the National City Police Department. However, officers at the time collected blood samples at the scene belonging to the suspect even though DNA testing wasn’t yet available, keeping the case in circulation for decades.

“Throughout the years, different NCPD detectives looked at the case, but no firm leads were developed,” Aydelotte said.

This wasn’t the first attempt by law enforcement to hunt down Bryant’s killer through DNA. In 2008, the blood sample was submitted to the San Diego Sheriff’s Department Crime Laboratory and the Combined DNA Index System with hopes of finding the killer among a pool of possible suspects.

“The DNA profile from the blood evidence remained in the system and was searched regularly with no hits,” Aydelotte said.

Then, eight years after National City police teamed up with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, and after serious advancements in forensic technology, Cornett was identified through the work of an in-house genealogist of the Cold Homicide and Research Genealogy Effort, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

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