CHAMBERS COUNTY, Texas -- It took a Chambers County jury only about 30 minutes to convict a man of capital murder in the 1996 sexual assault and strangulation of a 13-year-old Texas City girl.
Krystal Jean Baker was last seen at a convenience store in Texas City on March 5, 1996.
In a taped confession, Kevin Edison Smith admitted he gave her a ride, then choked her with a leather strap when she "started freaking out on me."
Smith received an automatic life sentence for killing Baker and dumping her body underneath the Trinity River Bridge on I-10 in Chambers County.
Prosecutors said they didn’t seek the death penalty because investigators want to question Smith about other unsolved murders in an area of I-45 between Houston and Galveston that became known as "The Killing Fields."
Dozens of girls and young women, including Baker,vanished from that area, beginning in the 70s.
Most of the cases remain unsolved.
Smith's jury began deliberating at about 10 a.m. Thursday and reached a decision by 10:30.
Smith didn’t testify in the trial, which began Monday, but they did hear his videotaped interview.
During closing arguments, prosecutors told the jury the evidence against Smith was overwhelming.
"It comes right out of his mouth," said prosecutors. "You heard it on tape. ‘She wouldn’t be quiet. She struggled. So what do I do? I picked up a strap.’"
Baker’s family, Smith, and others in the crowded courtroom began crying at the end of closing arguments, according to KFDM reporter Lindsey Kovacevich.
"I didn’t do that. I didn’t do that," Smith cried out.
"Collect yourself, Mr. Smith, or I’ll have you removed from the courtroom," the judge told him.
Smith was linked to Baker’s death through a national DNA database after he was arrested in Louisiana on a drug charge in 2010.
After the arrest, Krystal’s mother, Jeanie Escamilla, said she had given up hope her daughter’s killer would be found.
"I wish I could wake up out of this terrible nightmare and hold my little girl in my arms again," Escamilla told the Galveston County Daily News in 2010. "None of this is going to bring her back."
Smith, 47, graduated from Galveston's Ball High School and lived near Baker at the time of her disappearance.