The review of a 13-year-old cold case landed a man back behind bars Wednesday when DNA linked Phillip Scott Kirby Sr. to the 2002 murder of an East Georgia College associate professor.
Kirby was arrested as he left Dodge State Prison, released after serving 13 years on a conviction of armed robbery. He previously was incarcerated for convictions of attempted rape and other crimes.
Kirby is accused of murdering Dr. Emily Pestana-Mason, stabbing her in the neck while her two daughters were in the home, in 2002. Initially, Pestana-Mason's husband, Dr. Walter C. Mason, was charged in the murder, said Statesboro attorney Lovett Bennett Jr., who assisted Swainsboro attorney Robert Reeves, now an Emanuel County Superior Court judge, in defending Mason.
The case against Mason was dismissed after "the time schedule didn't match, and there was no evidence linking him to the scene," Bennett said Thursday.
However, a pubic hair found at the scene, as well as a ring that did not fit Mason, indicated there was another suspect, he said.
The case lay dormant and unsolved until Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney Hayward Altman decided to review the case.
The evidence - the pubic hair - was resubmitted for testing and was a match to Kirby's DNA, Altman said Thursday.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Emanuel County Sheriff's Office both agreed to proceed with charging Kirby, he said.
Emanuel County Sheriff Tyson Stephens did not return calls Wednesday and Thursday seeking comment about the arrest.
It was coincidental that Kirby was arrested on the murder charges just as he was being released from prison, Altman said.
"It just turned out that way," he said.
The case review and subsequent discovery of evidence linking Kirby to the murder "was just six weeks ago," he said.
Altman said that while Kirby is charged only with murder at this time, additional charges are pending.
Kirby, 42, of Swainsboro, is being held without bond in the Emanuel County Jail, according to jail records.
He served 13 years in Dodge State Prison for an armed robbery in Emanuel County that occurred May 25, 2002, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections website.
He served six years of a previous 10-year sentence for convictions of attempted rape, aggravated assault, robbery and burglary related to a Sept. 10, 1990, incident. That stint in prison lasted from Feb. 20, 1991, to May 30, 1997, according to the website.
Pestana-Mason was 38 when she died, according to an online memorial page created by her sister.
She taught English and was known for her poetry, according to an obituary listed on the site.
The Augusta Chronicle reported in an article in 2004 that an affidavit by GBI Special Agent John Durden stated that "investigators found evidence of extreme violence inside the Mason family home. Dr. Pestana-Mason had been stabbed and cut repeatedly, and her body was posed in a way to suggest a sexual assault."
Investigators also found a man's wedding ring inside the home that did not belong to either Mason or his wife, the affidavit stated.
Kirby admitted having been in the home to repair a hot water heater, according to the report.
In the 2004 article, the Augusta Chronicle reported Kirby admitted that he lost his wedding ring in a car wreck "a few miles" from the Mason home and that the ring found in the home matched the style and size of the ring Kirby allegedly lost.
The article also stated that Kirby's conviction in the Sept. 1990 incident stemmed from crimes he committed at a Swainsboro convenience store and that Mason testified that he was at Wal-Mart for about an hour when his wife was killed.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.