Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Posted on Sat, Apr. 20, 2002

Woman held in slaying of parents

By MELODY McDONALD and DEANNA BOYD
Star-Telegram Staff Writers
Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH - The note at the scene hinted that the brutal slayings of the Police Department's fingerprint specialist and his beloved wife were a criminal's act of revenge.

DNA evidence suggested otherwise.

Friday morning, police arrested the 48-year-old daughter of Loyd and Agnes Courtney on a capital murder warrant in the Nov. 2 deaths of her parents. Deborah Pieringer, a homemaker and mother, is in the Mansfield Jail with bail set at $500,000.

Authorities say the 5-foot-4, 250-pound woman repeatedly stabbed her parents with a knife and bludgeoned them, possibly with a frying pan and table leg. A note found at the scene suggested that the killings had been committed by someone whom Loyd Courtney, who spent 50 years with the Police Department, had helped send to prison.

But, they said, blood other than that of the victims had also been left behind.

And it was that DNA evidence that authorities said eventually linked Pieringer to the slayings. Analysts compared a DNA profile of blood found at the scene with a DNA sample Pieringer willingly provided after the slayings.

The two matched, and an arrest warrant was issued Thursday.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, homicide Sgt. J.D. Thornton said Pieringer was arrested without incident about 8 a.m. Friday after police stopped her vehicle in the 4300 block of Western Center Boulevard.

Although police had not determined a motive, Thornton said there were some "problems that occurred in the past" between Pieringer and her parents.

He would not elaborate.

The arrest warrant was issued soon after authorities received the DNA results from the independent laboratory that conducted the tests, Thornton said.

The Fort Worth Police Department's crime lab normally performs its own tests, but the evidence in the Courtney case was sent out because of the large quantity that needed to be tested and because the analysts had a heavy caseload, Thornton said.

Pieringer's attorney, Jeff Kearney, said Pieringer has maintained her innocence since the killings. He said he has not seen the DNA test results but will question any evidence preserved by the police crime lab.

"There is a great lack of confidence in some of the employees and lab technicians at the Fort Worth crime lab," Kearney said.

"The second thing, it would not be unusual to have her DNA, if in fact they have it, come from her parent's house. That was a house she spent a great deal of time in."

A police officer found the bodies of Loyd and Agnes Courtney inside their South Hills home the evening of Nov. 2 after the normally punctual Loyd Courtney did not show up for work at the Police Department.

When the officer arrived shortly after 5 p.m. at the home in the 4900 block of Stadium Drive, the doors were locked. Peering through a window, the officer saw a purse that appeared to have had its contents dumped.

The officer entered the home with a key provided by a neighbor.

Inside, police found drawers pulled open and a computer knocked from a desk. Loyd "Smitty" Courtney, 75, was lying in the dining area, dressed in gray slacks and a blue long-sleeved shirt like the clothing he often wore to work. Agnes Courtney, 71, was in a bedroom.

An autopsy showed that Loyd Courtney had been stabbed or cut 19 times, including once in the left jugular vein. The 5-foot-8, 189-pound man had also been struck in the head more than once with a frying pan and a weapon consistent with a metal bracket attached to a table leg, said Dr. Nizam Peerwani, the Tarrant County chief medical examiner, who conducted the autopsy.

Agnes Courtney's autopsy revealed that the 5-foot-4, 131-pound woman had been cut or stabbed 22 times and that she suffered multiple blunt-force traumatic injuries to the head and defensive wounds. Her throat had also been slit.

Peerwani said both victims had defensive wounds, indicating they had attempted to ward off the attacker.

"They were certainly awake and oriented and were aware they were being assaulted," Peerwani said. "I guess you can say they fought for their lives."

The couple, who had been married 50 years, were buried together at Moore Memorial Gardens in Arlington.

Loyd Courtney joined the Fort Worth Police Department in 1952. After 33 years on the force, he retired in 1984 as a detective in the identification section. He later returned to work as a civilian identification technician.

Colleagues affectionately referred to him as the world's oldest living fingerprints expert.

His wife dedicated much of her life to community service, working with the county as a child advocate and volunteering at the Women's Haven and the Ronald McDonald House.

Last summer, she contacted Castleberry High School graduate Jose Gutierrez after a miscalculation dropped his rank from valedictorian to the No. 3 spot, disqualifying him from a college tuition waiver. Agnes Courtney, who had lost her third-place class standing when her high school miscalculated her rank, established a scholarship fund to help Gutierrez.

The Courtneys had two daughters, one adopted and one biological. Pieringer is the biological daughter.

Walt Johnson, an identification technician who worked with Courtney for 12 years, said news of the arrest was a relief to him and Courtney's other former co-workers.

"Everyone thought it would be a quick and fast thing," he said. "I guess they were just waiting until they had all their ducks in a row. It took a lot longer than we thought it would."

Johnson said rumors surfaced early on that the Courtneys' daughter might have been involved in the slaying, so her arrest Friday was not a surprise. However, he said, he never heard Loyd Courtney talk about any problems with his children.

"I don't remember him talking about either one of them, other than just minor stuff," Johnson said. "Nothing to speak of at all. Of course, he wasn't the type that would have said anything negative about his family."

Friday evening, TV news crews and reporters descended upon the Courtneys' neighborhood. Rita and Ted Hoffman, the Courtneys' next-door neighbors for about 25 years, opened their door to all of them, greeting them with a cold drink.

The couple said that they did not know Pieringer and that they saw her only in passing when she visited her parents. They said they were not shocked by news of her arrest because police had told them that they believed the attack was business-related, personal or committed by a family member.

"Police said, 'Don't worry - don't be afraid to go in your neighborhood.' They thought it was an inside job," Rita Hoffman said.

Still, Ted Hoffman said, they were relieved that someone had been arrested.

"We lost some dear friends," he said. "It's a shame. They were wonderful people. Bad things happen to good people. We'll miss them."

Melody McDonald, (817) 390-7386 mjmcdonald@star-telegram.com Deanna Boyd, (817) 390-7655 dboyd@star-telegram.com

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