A judge Monday ruled prosecutors can seek the death penalty against a drifter accused of killing a Yukon woman 24 years ago.
The murder trial for Kyle Richard Eckardt was set for Sept. 26.
Prosecutors allege Eckardt raped then killed Kathy Sue Engle after he and an accomplice abducted her outside Oklahoma City's Shepherd Mall on April 23, 1986.
Eckardt was charged with first-degree murder after DNA evidence from the victim's abandoned car linked him to the crime. She was 41.
Eckardt, 45, has denied involvement.
Oklahoma County District Judge Lisa Davis said she could schedule the jury trial for earlier in 2011, but defense attorneys said they needed the time to prepare. They said, for example, records they wanted from a Houston hospital have been destroyed, some in flooding.
â€œI understand the difficulties in this case with it being a 24-year-old case,â€ the judge said.
Prosecutors needed the judge's permission on punishment, because they did not decide to seek a death sentence until after Eckardt had his preliminary hearing and was arraigned.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals requires prosecutors to announce before or at arraignment whether they will seek a death sentence. The deadline was set so defense attorneys can have adequate time to prepare mitigation. Exceptions are allowed.
Prosecutors explained they decided to seek the death penalty because of insights from new information.
The new information in the case is that a second suspect, Steven A. Boerner, was identified in May from his fingerprint on the victim's steering wheel. Boerner, an ex-convict from Michigan, died in 1992 in a trucking accident.
The new insights came when prosecutors learned Boerner supposedly had confessed to a cellmate. Prosecutors said the cellmate reported Boerner admitted that he and another man kidnapped an Oklahoma woman in the 1980s, that they took her and her vehicle, that he drove while the other man raped her, and that they took the woman out into the country and cut her throat.