The sister of the 60-year-old long-haul trucker accused in a brutal 1979 killing said the family is stunned by his arrest and their hearts go out to the family of the slain girl.

Despite some prior brushes with the law, Prentice Foreman is "very kind" and a hard worker, his sister, Phyllis Willis, said Friday outside a Kern County courtroom following Foreman's arraignment on a charge of first-degree murder with special circumstances that he raped or attempted to rape the victim, and that he burglarized her apartment. 

Willlis, 63, said she's never known Foreman to be violent. He's worked as a trucker for at least 15 years, she said. 

When asked about the allegations, she said, "Well, innocent until proven guilty. Thirty-nine years? Wow, that's a really old case."

Willis said her brother has never mentioned the name of Dawn Koons, the 18-year-old girl he's accused of strangling in Koons' apartment nearly 40 years ago. She said he lived in the same apartment complex as Koons in the 2200 block of Real Road.

During the brief court hearing, Kern County Public Defender Pam Singh entered a not-guilty plea on Foreman's behalf. Judge Michael G. Bush denied her request to ban the media from photographing Foreman.

The judge said the case by its nature is going to generate significant publicity, and he doesn't believe publishing images of Foreman will deny him his right to a fair trial.

Prosecutor Gina Pearl said a decision has not been made whether to seek the death penalty. 

In 2012, detectives conducted a periodic review of the Koons case and turned up what they believed were new leads. Semen taken from the crime scene was retested and in October returned a hit matching Foreman's DNA profile, according to a probable-cause declaration.

Detectives arrested Foreman on Wednesday at his residence in the 2300 block of South Union Avenue.

Foreman was questioned just weeks after Koons' naked body was found Jan. 16, 1979, in her bathtub, according to the declaration. She was last seen the night of Jan. 12. 

Foreman told investigators he was with his girlfriend during the time frame in which the killing occurred.

He's next due in court Jan. 5. 

Jason Kotowski can be reached at 661-395-7491. Follow him on Twitter: @tbcbreakingnews.

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