CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — On Monday a murder suspect appeared in court for a decades-old cold case in Pinellas County.
According to investigators, Michael Lapniewski, Jr. was 19 years old when he allegedly murdered 82-year-old Opal Weil in 1987.
“Weil was found with obvious signs of trauma by her sister-in-law on February 9th, 1987, at her home,” Pinellas County Sheriff’s Deputy Dave Brenn said.
At the time, police collected some hairs at the crime scene that didn’t match Weil’s. In December 2020, cold case detectives sent the hairs to Parabon Nanolabs for DNA and genealogical testing.
“Through extensive testing, Parabon was able to identify familial relatives and narrow it down to three possible males,” Brenn said. “Two of which were able to be eliminated.”
Detectives invited Lapniewski to a free dinner in his home state of Mississippi and got a DNA sample after the meal was over. Police said his DNA matched a sample from the crime scene and that he lived a half mile away from Weil at the time.
Two months ago, Lapniewski was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
On Monday, Lapniewski stood before a judge in Pinellas County court for his first pretrial hearing. Lapniewski only responded to the Judge’s questions.
Lapniewski’s attorney said he has pleaded not guilty, and told the judge the case will take more time. “This is a 1987 case, it was genealogy DNA, so we have a great deal of work to do,” she said.
The state said they are not pursuing the death penalty.
The judge set the next hearing date for June 19, 2023.
Four days after Weil was killed in her home, another elderly woman, Eleanor Swift, was murdered in her home too. According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the cases are believed to be committed by the same person, and they are still investigating the potential connection.