DNA on beer cans leads to suspect in 1996 death of Florida store clerk stabbed 73 times

ORLANDO — Saliva on his discarded beer cans has led to the arrest of a Florida man accused of stabbing a store clerk more than six dozen times in the winter of 1996.

Kenneth Robert Stough Jr., 54, of Eustis, was arrested Tuesday and charged with first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon in the cold case killing of 31-year-old Terence Leslie Paquette. Stough is being held without bond in the Orange County Jail.

Paquette was found stabbed to death in the restroom of the Lil’ Champ Food Store in Orlando the morning of Feb. 3, 1996. Paquette, the store manager, was preparing to open for the day when he was slain.

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“He was stabbed 73 times. More to the torso, and his throat was actually slit. It was a very gruesome, violent scene,” Orange County Sheriff’s Office Detective Brian Savelli said in a video on the case.

Sheriff’s Office officials said the case is the first for the agency solved using genetic genealogy. Othram Inc., a Texas-based private laboratory that specializes in the method, assisted in the process.

All of Paquette’s family members have died since his murder, but authorities notified several of his friends of the arrest in the case.

A grisly scene

Paquette, a relatively new resident of Orlando, arrived at Lil’ Champ between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. each day to prepare for the store’s 6 a.m. opening. The store’s alarm had been deactivated at 5:39 a.m. the morning he was murdered.

“He had only moved to Orlando a few years earlier, worked 60 hours weeks, and did not have many known associates,” Othram said in a news release.

Deputies were called to the store on Clarcona Ocoee Road shortly after 7 a.m. the morning of Feb. 3, 1996, after a regular passerby noticed the store’s lights were not on as usual. The man stopped and found the doors locked and no one visible inside, but said he drove off to continue with his day.

A nagging suspicion caused the man to call the sheriff’s office, according to court documents.

When a deputy arrived at the store, two employees of an armored car service were outside.

“The two of them were at the Lil’ Champ convenience store to pick up the cash deposit from the business, but stated the door was locked,” Savelli wrote in an arrest affidavit.

As a pair of the deputy’s supervisors arrived at the scene, the trio noticed a small amount of blood on the exterior lock assembly of the door. When dispatchers called the store phone, no one answered.

A license plate check indicated that a white Honda parked outside belonged to Paquette. Calls to his home also went unanswered.

A Lil’ Champ employee who lived nearby happened to drive past and saw the growing police presence, the affidavit states. The man, who had closed the store the night before, provided a key for deputies to get inside.

The scene they found inside was one of brutal violence. Paquette lay dead, covered in blood, on the floor of the store’s restroom.

The medical examiner who later conducted Paquette’s autopsy counted a total of 73 stab wounds on the slain man’s head, neck, torso and extremities. Multiple wounds penetrated his heart and both lungs.

Authorities determined that Paquette’s killer stole about $1,000 from the store’s safe before taking Paquette’s keys and locking the front door as he left. The keys have never been found.

Detectives followed leads but without witnesses to the crime, those leads were quickly exhausted. According to Othram, authorities were able to exclude some people as suspects in 2003 based on crime scene evidence, but the case remained unsolved.

WFTV in Orlando reported that the probe was reopened in 2013, with little progress. Six years later, in 2019, Paquette’s murder became the focus of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office’s new cold case unit.

Savelli was re-examining the case when the idea of genetic genealogy entered his mind.

The method, which uses a known DNA profile to reverse engineer a family tree for the unknown suspect, became a popular new investigative tool in 2018 after California authorities used it to identify Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. as the notorious Golden State Killer.

“I was just thinking, if someone was stabbed 73 times, there has got to be additional DNA that was not the victim’s,” Savelli said.

There was.

Watch footage from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office below. Editor’s note: The video contains graphic images.

Detectives in 1996 had found numerous droplets of blood beyond what was found on and around Paquette’s body. According to court records, the blood pattern was consistent with the killer injuring himself during the violent attack and then walking around the store as his wounds bled.

Samples from the front door key cylinder, the push bar on the door, a lottery machine behind the counter and the handle of a beverage freezer were submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for testing in 1996. The blood did not belong to Paquette but to a single unknown man.

More than 23 years later, the FDLE turned to Othram, which used advanced DNA technology to retest the sample from the beverage freezer handle. The company used its Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to build a genealogical profile, according to a news release.

“Upon successful generation of the profile, Othram returned the profile to FDLE, where FDLE investigators used forensic genetic genealogy to narrow in on possible suspects,” the release said.

Detectives uploaded the data into GEDMatch and Family Tree, two public ancestry databases. The family tree they subsequently built indicated that the blood sample came from someone with genetic ties to both Kenneth Stough Sr. and his wife.

That led authorities to the couple’s three children: Kenneth Stough Jr. and his two older brothers, Savelli said.

“I was able to determine that Kenneth Robert Stough Jr. lived in close proximity to Terrence Paquette in February of 1996,” Savelli wrote in the arrest affidavit.

Read the arrest affidavit below.

The men’s apartments were across the street from one another, and both complexes were less than a mile from the store.

Investigators also learned that Stough, then 28, had previously worked at Lil’ Champ.

Armed with circumstantial evidence, authorities were able to get a warrant in August to put Stough under surveillance, including surreptitiously placing a GPS device on his Chevy Equinox.

Savelli was following Stough the afternoon of Sept. 14 when he spotted him dumping a gray trash bag into a public dumpster outside a CITGO convenience store. After Stough drove away, the detective immediately secured the dumpster and removed the bag.

Inside were several Budweiser beer cans. Crime scene workers at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office swabbed the beer cans for DNA and submitted the samples to the FDLE’s lab for analysis.

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The DNA profile from one of the cans matched the person who left the blood on the beverage freezer door handle, the court documents allege.

When questioned, Stough admitted to having worked at the convenience store but did not admit to the crime, authorities said.

Orange County Sheriff John Mina said the Paquette case is a good example of why the department created a unit dedicated to unsolved cases, WFTV reported.

“Just because we don’t make an arrest in a case in a day or a few weeks or even a few months doesn’t mean we give up on our victims and their families,” Mina said.