Cold case probe leads to arrest for 1988 Montecito murder

September 2, 2016
Vernon Hart Kendrick

Vernon Hart Kendrick

Twenty-eight years following the murder of a 46-year-old Montecito man, cold case detectives used DNA evidence to identify the suspect. Detectives then located the man inside a Florida jail.

Larry Lon Lee, 52, is now facing extradition to Santa Barbara County, where he will face the charge of murdering Vernon Hart Kendrick in 1988.

On July 1, 1988, Kendrick’s employer asked law enforcement to conduct a welfare check at the studio where Kendrick was living alone in the 100 block of Olive Mill Road. A Santa Barbara police officer entered the apartment and found Kendrick’s body inside.

Detectives determined Kendrick had been killed by blunt force trauma.

Kendrick was last seen alive as he was leaving The Palace restaurant in Santa Barbara with a man who was possibly from Florida.

Sheriff’s detectives developed a person of interest but exhausted all leads and did not manage to identify the suspect. The murder investigation then became a cold case.

Over time, different investigators would review the case and examine the evidence using new technology.

In June 2010, a sheriff’s cold case detective submitted critical evidence from the crime scene to the California Department of Justice Crime Lab to conduct a DNA search. The lab identified Kendrick’s DNA, as well as a DNA profile belonging to an unknown man. Authorities entered the DNA profile into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).

On Aug. 18, the DOJ Crime Lab informed the sheriff’s office there was a potential DNA match with Larry Lee, who was in custody in Sarasota County on theft-related charges. Detectives conducted further investigation and found more evidence linking Lee to the murder.

On Thursday morning, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s detectives interviewed Lee in the Sarasota County Jail. An arrest warrant was then obtained, and it was served by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.

Santa Barbara sheriff’s officials have requested that the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office charge Lee with murder. When Lee’s criminal case in Florida is resolved, the sheriff’s office will seek his extradition to Santa Barbara County.

Lee has an extensive criminal history of theft and narcotics-related arrests in several states, including California and Florida, according to the sheriff’s office. He was most recently arrested on July 12.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown held a press conference Thursday during which he praised the work of numerous detectives.

“We would not be here today if it had not been for the professionalism and fine work done by the original sheriff’s detectives and crime scene technicians who meticulously processed the scene, ultimately collecting trace DNA evidence which proved to be pivotal in solving this case,” Brown said. “I also want to commend and recognize the cold case detectives over the years who refused to give up on this case and other cold cases. This case is a great example of how we consider a murder case to never be closed until a suspect is identified and brought to justice. It also shows the importance of dedicating precious resources to cold case investigations.”

The sheriff’s office tried but did not succeed in contacting Kendrick’s family prior to the press conference. Sheriff’s officials did notify a long-time family friend, though, and they say they will keep searching for living relatives.

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Could we get these guys to look into the Kristin Smart murder case?

Maybe the SLO PD should hire these SBCo sleuths Sheriff Brown praises to solve the long string of unsolved SLO murders.

You need to be careful with DNA because it is easy to cross contaminate accidentally, especially evidence collected 28 years ago. Which may have passed through multiple officers hands diring reviews of the onvestigation.

DNA is good, but it is not perfect either and a good defense attorney can present experts to pick exploit weaknesses and create doubt.

Not only that, but you also need to be careful if you donate blood. If a criminal gets a transfusion of your blood and then bleeds at the scene of a crime, guess who will end up getting the rap for that crime? You! ;)

The DNA test would detect that the blood is mixed and there would be clear evidence that you had donated blood and the criminal had received a transfusion. Even if you have an idiot for a lawyer, you would not be charged

How will they produce evidence to convict him after all this time? Unless they have bloody finger prints I can see no way to prove that he killed Mr. Kendrick. We will see. How can a man defend himself against a charge so many long years later? How could he find alibi witnesses; even if they are still alive?

A good DNA match is all the proof needed. No different than if it were your DNA were found on the blunt force handle decades later, you’re gonna dance at the end of a rope. Remember this is how those who were falsely accused and in prison for many years get out.

It is great that this detective work was done using DNA. But I must disagree with your

statement of “you’re gonna dance at the end of a rope”

In California no one has, or ever will dance at the end of a rope. Not because they do not deserve to – but because of this state’s ridiculous capital punishment system.

They will get room and board, free medical, free TV, legal representation, and many

other things that most people have to work long hours at lousy jobs to get.

Could it possibly be that our criminal justice system needs a total and complete overhaul?

So let’s all quit our jobs and murder somebody in a way we’re sure to get caught so we can get “room and board, free medical, free TV, legal representation, and many other things.” I guess these creeps are just smarter than we are. Geez.

It is not the creeps that are smarter – it is the citizens that are dumber.

I simply was pointing out that our justice system puts the criminals well ahead of the taxpayers – and it is the taxpayers that pay for it.

Actually, I am in complete favor of ‘dancing at the end of a rope’ for some

crimes (murder being one). I have asked many elected officials for a very logical reason why someone convicted and sentenced to death be allowed

to spend 15, 20, 25 years or more on death row. Not one has given a real, strong convincing reason – can you?

Don’t bother with the standard stuff such as justice must be served, court system is full, or court- appointed (and taxpayer paid for) legal aid takes a long time to get a case together, Way too many of those currently sitting on death row in San Quentin should have been dispatched a long time ago, but none will ever be.

Just because he was at that location at some time and left some DNA residue, that doesn’t prove that he killed anyone. You leave DNA residue wherever you go. Maybe someone will be murdered in that place just minutes or hours or even days after you leave. That doesn’t prove that you were there at the exact time that the murder was committed or that you killed or tried to kill anyone.

It’s all about DNA and the fact that there is NO statute of limitations when it comes to murder.

DNA is becoming an exact science that will can and will meet the standards of proving beyond a treasonable doubt.