FLORENCE, Ky. - 9 News has learned that the much-anticipated results of DNA testing in the 9-month-old double murder case of an N.Ky. couple has been sent from the lab to the Boone County Sheriff's Office for examining.
Bill and Peggy Stephenson, both 74, of Florence, were found brutally murdered in May 2011 in their Florence condo.
Detectives and members of the Stephensons' family have been anxious for these results, which they hope will lead to a break in the case that has devastated the Florence community.
This is the first of three rounds of DNA testing that will be done. Investigators believe this round will most likely lead to a killer if they are able to find anything.
The Stephensons' daughter, Beth Victor, tells 9 News she is relieved to now have this evidence back from the lab, but is only "cautiously optimistic" it will help bring answers after such a long and painful wait.
"It's been terrible on our family. It's just been horrible," said Victor.
The Stephensons were pillars of their community. They ran a truck stop ministry at Travel Centers of America in Florence. Bill led a service there every Sunday, and Peggy played the organ at the couple's Florence church. Why someone would kill them has baffled detectives for nine months.
Victor's husband found the couple dead in their home. The conversation that had to happen between Victor and her husband that day was more than Victor could talk about.
Victor says she and her siblings have met almost weekly, sometimes with detectives, to talk and support each other.
"I will say one thing, it's drawn us closer as a family, but I hate it's taken this to make us closer," said Victor.
Victor says her family's "new normal" is the pain of loss and worrying the killer or killers might want to harm another member of the family.
"We live in fear every day, you know that they're watching us, windows, blinds stayed pulled in all of our houses. I don't go out at night a whole lot by myself," Victor said.
Victor says because the family doesn't know why the murders happened, they can't be sure they're safe.
Investigators have not released whether anything was taken from their home, being very tight-lipped to protect their investigation.
Boone County sheriff's detectives have made no arrests despite interviewing hundreds of people in eight states, but all the while potentially key DNA evidence that could point to a killer or killers sat on a shelf, no one analyzing it for some six months.
"We understand that the family is very distressed, that the community has someone out and about and they'd like to know who did this. I am very concerned about the case," said Laura Sudkamp, who manages the six Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratories that receive evidence from police agencies across the Commonwealth.
Sudkamp says Boone County wanted the Stephenson evidence handled by an analyst in the Northern Kentucky lab with whom the county had a longtime relationship, but that analyst had to take a leave that proved lengthy.
"They waited as long as they could. Then they went ahead and said 'send it to the central lab for it to get worked.' We need results," said Sudkamp.
Sudkamp says an unexpected surge in cases has also kept the labs from speeding up the turn around of results.
"Officers are learning more and more about collecting DNA on the scene," said Sudkamp.
Sudkamp says the evidence load has more than doubled the past few years, keeping cases backlogged by four-to-six months despite a faster turn around rate.
She's now hiring three more analysts and is working on a grant to bring in robots, "to bring that down closer to 60-to-90 days, so that officers can actually use it as an investigative tool instead of just court purposes," said Sudkamp.
Sudkamp says if the state of Kentucky gave her $5 million, she could bring the wait time down to 30 days in the next year-and-a-half. That kind of priority would be up to lawmakers and taxpayers, she said.
Meantime DNA Supervisor Whitney Collins says she's been working nights and weekends on the Stephenson case since late December.
Boone County detectives are anxious to get the DNA evidence and hope it will help them solve the case, said spokesperson Tom Scheben. They will receive two more rounds of DNA evidence after this initial one as Collins keeps working on the case at the central lab.
Collins can't talk about what she may have found so far on the Stephenson case, but hopes it will help bring answers.
So do Beth Victor and her brothers, who remind the community they're offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
"We just want it solved, we just want to know who did it and why," said Victor.