Jailed Ohio Child Killer Eyed In East Texas Case

Authorities are investigating whether a man who pleaded guilty to killing three Dallas-area girls in the 1980s could also be responsible for the disappearance of another Texas girl around the same time.

David Elliott Penton, who is serving a life sentence in Toledo, Ohio, for killing a 9-year-old Columbus girl in 1988, allegedly mentioned Ara "Niecie" Johnson to fellow inmates, said Detective Freddie Fitzgerald of the Upshur County sheriff's office.

The 5-year-old was abducted from her bedroom in Big Sandy, about 95 miles east of Dallas, in April 1986.

"We have to talk to him _ there is no getting around it," Fitzgerald said. "We have to err on the side of caution, but this information brings hope to a case where hope was all but abandoned."

Penton said in an Ohio jailhouse interview with the Tyler Morning Telegraph that authorities are using him as a scapegoat to settle old cases that he had nothing to do with.

"I'm not a monster, though I have been called a monster. But I didn't go around the country killing little kids," Penton told the newspaper.

Detective Gary Sweet of the Garland Police Department, who investigated Penton for seven years, said he also is a suspect in the cases of two other Texas girls who went missing in the mid-1980s.

A Collin County grand jury indicted Penton in 2003 on capital murder charges in the abduction and slaying of 3-year-old Roxann Hope Reyes of Garland and 10-year-old Diane Proctor of Dallas in 1987. He also was indicted in the slaying of 5-year-old Christi Lynn Meeks of Mesquite in 1985.

Penton was extradited to Texas but pleaded guilty before the case went to a jury.

Penton was honorably discharged from the Army at Fort Hood in late 1985 and pleaded guilty to the manslaughter death of his 2-month-old son that year. Police said he shook the child.

During an appeal of that case, he fled.

Penton was a fugitive until he was arrested in Ohio in 1988 in the sexual assault and murder of 9-year-old Nydra Ross, a friend's niece. He was convicted by an Ohio jury in 2001.

Penton said there is no evidence against him in any of the cases. He said his fellow inmates have pinned him with crimes to win shortened sentences for themselves and he can't afford a proper defense.

"People are going to believe what they want to believe about me and there's nothing I can do," Penton told the Telegraph. "I mean, like I said, I am sitting in prison and I can't clear my name."