By Michael Abeyta

(CBS4) — The man who admitted to killing 21-year-old Helene Pruszynski 40 years ago was in court for sentencing Wednesday afternoon. Pruszynski was an intern at KHOW Radio in 1980.

She left the station one night and never made it home. She was kidnapped, raped and stabbed on her way home from an Englewood bus stop.

Her body was found in a vacant Douglas County field in what is now Highlands Ranch. She had been stabbed to death.

“When we received that phone call 40 years ago it was as if someone reached in and tore our hearts out,” her sister Janet Johnson said in court.

Helene Pruszynski (credit: Douglas County Sheriff)

Helene moved to Colorado just weeks before she was killed.

“Today we have a person in jail who will be there for the rest of his life and I’m so grateful for that,” said Janet.

The case was cold until 2017, when police entered DNA evidence into genealogy databases.  Investigators used that technology and forensic genealogy to identify James Clanton as the killer.

Janet says when police called her and told her the news it was emotional.

“They told me and I just lost it because it was just a relief.”

James Curtis Clanton (credit: Douglas County Sheriff)

Clanton, 62, pleaded guilty to first degree murder, which carries a life sentence. However, because of the laws in place in 1980, Clanton can apply for parole after serving for 20 years.

Janet says she’s glad he is in jail, and now she wants to focus all of her energy on remembering her sister. She remembered her as the light of the family’s life — someone they knew had a great future ahead.

“It gives me some peace knowing that this beast is in jail, but I don’t think we will ever have closure because Helene is not here and that void will remain with us forever,” she said. “She’s just a special woman whose life was taken way too soon.”

Michael Abeyta

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