FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The 1996 Debbie Dorian murder case went cold for more than two decades, but it's heating up now as the suspect heads toward a possible death penalty trial.
Action News has uncovered new information from the investigation, including the first link between sex crimes in Visalia and Fresno, and why the defense wants to keep the cases separated.
A red jail jumpsuit and cuffs are standard accessories for Nickey Stane since his October 2019 arrest for a series of Tulare County sex crimes almost 20 years earlier.
Fresno police also linked him to the 1996 sexual assault and murder of Fresno State student Debbie Dorian.
Prosecutors lumped all the alleged crimes together in a single Fresno County criminal case, which his defense attorney says is prejudicial.
"The only purpose in doing that is to taint Mr. Stane's reputation and to make it easier for the Fresno district attorneys to get a conviction," said defense attorney Jane Boulger.
Boulger argues the crimes happened in two different counties and although they're all sexual in nature, the Tulare County cases all share some methodology that doesn't resemble what happened to Dorian.
"It was out in the street and it was alleged to be more forceful where with Ms. Dorian, there's no sign of forced entry," Boulger said.
Prosecutors point out that investigators from Visalia and Fresno worked together to identify the serial sex criminal.
DNA evidence led to a wrongful arrest in 1996 but by 2002, the technology and coordination had improved.
DNA from the Dorian murder scene matched DNA from a Visalia sexual assault - one of four to which prosecutors say Stane has now confessed.
But he has denied raping and killing Dorian and investigators didn't know whose DNA they had collected until 2019.
Genetic genealogy pointed to Stane, so police collected items from his trash for a comparison.
It matched, so they got a warrant to collect more DNA directly from Stane, which they say confirmed he committed the Visalia crimes and the Dorian rape and murder.
"But the question is, this has been since '96. What's happened with that DNA evidence? Has it wasted away?" said legal analyst Tony Capozzi.
Capozzi says DNA evidence makes the Dorian charges stand strong on their own, but the defense will try to pick it apart, especially in a potential death penalty trial.
And he says combining the cases could become grounds for an appeal.
"Bringing the Tulare County cases in really adds to the evidence against this defendant in terms of being a sexual predator," Capozzi said. "Does that mean he raped and killed this person? Not necessarily."
A hearing is scheduled for next month for a judge to decide whether to sever the Tulare County cases and let the Dorian murder case stand alone.