A 66-year-old ex-felon was sentenced today to a light term of only 5 years to life for his second-degree murder conviction for killing a 13-year-old girl at her family’s home in East Oakland 40 years ago.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman apologized to family members of Julie McElhiney for the lenient sentence he imposed for Curtis Tucker for killing her on Aug. 9, 1974, but said his hands are tied by the sentencing laws that were in effect at the time.
“I wish there was more that I could do but there’s a reason they changed the law so crimes like this would get punished more severely,” Goodman said.
Tucker, who has prior convictions for sexual assault and burglary, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder on July 8, just before a trial was to begin on allegations that he sexually assaulted and murdered McElhiney.
According to Oakland police, McElhiney, a sixth-grader at Sequoia Elementary School, was found at about 5:40 p.m. on Aug. 9, 1974, face down on the second floor of her family’s apartment at 3022 Pleitner Ave.
She was then transported to Highland Hospital in Oakland, where she was pronounced dead. An autopsy said her cause of death was blunt force trauma to her head.
The coroner also documented that there was an injury to her vaginal area, according to a probable cause statement by Oakland police Sgt. Michael Weisenberg.
The case remained unsolved until 2012, when Tucker’s DNA was found on the clothing that McElhiney was wearing at the time of her death, according to Weisenberg.
McElhiney is survived by her mother and four sisters and three brothers, her family members said in court today.
Jenny McElhiney, one of McElhiney’s older sisters, said, “I pray that we never repeat an era like the 1970s when the life of little girls meant so little and murderers walked free after five to seven years.”
McElhiney said her sister was a good student and a talented violinist but Tucker “stole her music, her art, her friendships and beautiful mind and spirit” by killing her.
McElhiney said if her sister were able to speak to Tucker, she would ask him, “Why did you hit me hard in the head with a wine bottle, force me into a dressing room, throw me against the wall, wrap an electrical cord around my neck, force yourself into my body, the body of a child, fill a bathtub with water and throw my naked body into it?”
Kathy McElhiney, another older sister, read a letter signed by all family members saying that Julie McElhiney’s death has left them “greatly traumatized” for the past 40 years and caused “immeasurable anxiety and suffering.”
The letter alleged that the Oakland Police Department caused “physical and psychological pain” for one of McElhiney’s brothers, who was 16 at the time of her death, by focusing on him as a suspect before finally focusing on Tucker.
The letter said McElhiney’s younger sister, who was only 10 at the time and slept in the same room with McElhiney has experienced “grief and suffering that have never abated” and never married or led a normal life.
The letter said, “We have grave doubts about justice and not protecting children from predators. We waited 38 years for this crime to be solved and what kind of justice is that?”
Goodman, who appeared to be on the verge of tears, told McElhiney’s family members, “Sometimes there’s nothing I can say. I can’t imagine the pain you’ve gone through.”
Tucker looked straight ahead and didn’t show any emotion when McElhiney’s family spoke in court today and didn’t make any comments before he was sentenced.
He will be eligible for parole in several years.
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