"Nickey Duane Stane is the primary suspect in the rape and murder of Debbie Dorian," Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said in a press conference Friday.
Investigators say the Fresno State economics student was bound, gagged, raped and murdered. But DNA left behind is what Dyer said ultimately connected Nickey Stane to the case.
"We've been working with the Visalia Police Department for the past year on this case, specifically the last six months, and we actually coordinated with them the execution of the search warrant this week," Dyer said.
Detectives say throughout the decades solving the case remained a priority.
RELATED: Fresno Police reopen 1996 rape and murder cold case
Wednesday, along with Visalia Police officers, Fresno Police cold case detectives finally came face to face with Nickey Stane. They picked through his house looking for any sign that could further connect him to the murder.
"Our detectives recovered approximately 25 boxes of what they believed to be potential evidence, hundreds of items of potential evidence that they are now going through," Dyer said.
WATCH: News conference with Fresno Police Chief Dyer and Dist. Attorney Smittcamp
Over the years, Stane managed to mostly stay off the radar of law enforcement. He's had very few police contacts throughout the years.
In 2016, Fresno Police revealed that DNA evidence linked Dorian's killer to up to seven assaults on women, including a series of sexual assaults in Visalia.
Stane appeared in court Friday on some of those sexual assault cases.
MAP: Visalia assault cases
DNA evidence and the evolution of DNA testing has played a central role in this case.
After the first assault in 1999, Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar says investigators collected DNA evidence. He faces more than 70 years to life in prison if convicted of the eight felony charges.
VIDEO: Neighbors, ex-wife react
Over the phone, an ex-wife of Stane reacted to the news.
She didn't want to be identified, but she did say she was married to him from 1990 to 1999 and told us their marriage ended before the alleged crimes were committed.
"I'm shocked. I'm not defending him, but I had no clue whatsoever. I can just tell you he was a great dad to his kids. They were number one for him," she said.
At this time, detectives will not reveal whether Stane lived in Fresno at the time Dorian was murdered.
His mugshot taken earlier the week is strikingly similar to the initial suspect description. Officers said the man wanted for Dorian's murder was a white man, with blonde or gray hair, about 35 years old. standing five foot ten. He was also described as having a slim build.
Chief Dyer was one of the officers who responded to the crime scene in 1996.
"At this point, it's so early in the investigation, we're not sure of a motive. There doesn't seem to be any obvious stab wound or gunshot wound or anything like that," Dyer told Action News in 1996.
Specific details about the crime weren't released Friday, including whether Dorian may have known Stane before the day she was murdered. Investigators say they still have a lot of interviews to do before making a homicide arrest.
Action News reached out to Debbie Dorian's mother Friday. She said detectives did contact her recently to let her know about this new development, but she didn't want to comment further.
At this point, investigators haven't tied Stane to any other cases.