BARSTOW An attorney for a 72-year-old Needles man on trial for the 1982 slaying of his girlfriend said Tuesday during opening statements at Barstow Superior Court that his client couldn't be proven guilty because there was no evidence that the victim had been murdered despite the fact that her head and hand had been severed.

Jimmy Joe Cox is charged with murdering 25-year-old Carole Spearman, who went missing on Dec. 23, 1982. Her severed hand washed up on the banks of the Colorado River on Dec. 24, and her severed head was found nearly a month later. Cox was investigated in the case but was not formally charged until May 2010, when investigators with the San Bernardino cold case team opened the case and re-interviewed witnesses.

During Deputy District Attorney John Thomas' opening statements, he said that Spearman was last seen alive by two witnesses, who said they saw her crying outside an Arizona bar just after midnight on Dec. 23.

Cox later told a bank manager that he had to carry an intoxicated Spearman into their shared home and put her to bed, said Thomas. Cox then woke up at 5 a.m. to find Spearman gone and did not report her missing until a week later.

Spearman's head and hand wrapped in plastic bags and sealed with bailing wire washed up after her disappearance. Bailing wire found inside Cox's home was the same diameter and same elemental composition as the bailing wire used to tie the bags shut, said Thomas.

Neighbors told police that they had seen Cox thoroughly cleaning out his car after Spearman's disappearance which is something they had never seen him do before, said Thomas. Police who searched Cox's residence and vehicle found a box for a brand-new circular saw in his car, but never managed to find the saw.

Edward Wilson, Cox's public defender, said there was no evidence that Spearman was murdered because there was no DNA, fingerprints, or blood that showed evidence that Cox had anything to do with the victim's death.

Although the bags and bailing wire found with Spearman were similar to those found in Cox's home, Wilson said there was only one store in the area that sold those items at the time and any number of locals could have the same items in their homes.

Wilson said that Cox did not think it was unusual to wake up at 5 a.m. with Spearman already gone, since her job cleaning a doctor's office meant that she could work anytime between 5 p.m. after they closed to 8 a.m. the next day. After he determined she was missing, Cox was unable to file a report with police until more than 48 hours passed.

Wilson also pointed out that Spearman's autopsy was never able to determine a cause of death, which means that her death could have been due to anything, from an accidental overdose to being shot.

Authorities were never able to determine where Spearman was killed, said Wilson.

"If we don't know what happened and how it happened, you can't convict someone of murder," said Wilson.

If convicted, Cox could face 25 years to life in prison. Testimony in the case is scheduled to resume Wednesday.

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