AUSTIN — The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday upheld James Otto Earhart's 1988 conviction and death sentence for the 1987 shooting death of 9-year-old Kandy Kirtland. 

The girl's body was found in a wooded area off Villa Maria Road in Bryan in late May 1987, about two weeks after she disappeared. She was last seen getting off a school bus near her home. 

She had been shot once in the head with a .22 caliber bullet. 

Walker County Sheriff's deputies arrested Earhart in the Sam Houston National Forest about 17 hours before a Bryan man discovered Kirtland's body. 

An arrest warrant had been issued for Earhart about a week before his arrest. 

Former 85th District Judge W.T. "Tom" McDonald moved Earhart's trial to giddings after granting a defense motion for change of venue. Defense attorney's W.W. Vance and Robert R. Scott argued that extensive pretrial publicity prevented Earhart from receiving a fair trial in Brazos County. 

Among other appeals, Earhart challenged the sufficiency of the evidence against him. Justices on the state's highest appeals court affirmed his conviction 7-2. 

District Attorney Bill Turner said he had not seen a copy of the court's opinions Wednesday, so he didn't know why the court upheld the conviction or why two justices dissented. 

"We're encouraged that the Court of Criminal Appeals found that the conviction should stand," Turner said, "but we're realistic in realizing this is just once step in the appeals process."

All capital murder convictions in Texas are automatically appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. 

Scott couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. 

Like Turner, Vance said he hadn't seen the opinion. Vance now works for the state as a courtmaster, haring child support and paternity cases filed through the Attorney General's Office in Brazos and 11 other counties. 

Vance said his position prevents him from taking part in Earhart's appeals. 

Earhart has 15 days to file a request with the Court of Criminal Appeals to reconsider the decision, and 90 days to file a request with the United States Supreme Court to review the Texas court's decision.  

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