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Martin Priest guilty of first-degree murder in case of missing Eldon girl

Martin Priest was found guilty of capital murder in the case of a missing Eldon girl, Tammy Rothganger. (Miller County Sheriff's Office)

A man charged with murder in the death of Tammy Rothganger has been convicted.

Martin Priest's three-day trial concluded Thursday with the 12-person jury finding him guilty of first-degree murder.

Court records showed Priest was the live-in boyfriend of Tammy Rothganger's mother in 1984. Investigators said Rothganger, a high school sophomore at Eldon High School at the time, disappeared after apparently getting into a vehicle with Priest and another man before school. Rothganger had not been seen since and her body was never found.

Priest took the stand Wednesday, claiming he never raped or killed Tammy. His nephew David Nicholas, who said he was present at the time of Tammy's death, told jurors he watched Priest rape the girl and then strangle her to death on May 16, 1984. Nicholas was 13 years old at the time of her disappearance.

Jurors deliberated for about 90 minutes before announcing their decision.

Tammy Rothganger's family sat in the courtroom as Martin Priest stoically sat nearby. They said they were still in shock after the verdict and said they were happy he would be behind bars for the rest of his life.

Priest was charged with capital murder in connection with the case in January 2016. He has already been serving another life sentence in the Kansas Department of Corrections for another murder charge.

While it has never been found, investigators said they believe Priest buried Tammy Rothganger's body on farmland in Miller County.

He will be sentenced for the first-degree murder conviction Nov. 6 at 10 a.m. at the Laclede County Courthouse.

Editor's Note: The story has been udpated with reaction from Tammy Rothganger's family.

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