SHELBY, N.C. -- A Gaston County man faces murder and rape charges in connection with a 6-year-old crime.

Donald Eugene Borders appeared via video monitor for his first court appearance Tuesday morning as his family and members of the victim's family watched without showing much emotion.

He said nothing as he listened as charges of first-degree rape, felony breaking and entering and a murder charge were read.

Borders, of Cherryville, was arrested on Monday, accused in the 2003 death of 76-year-old Margaret Tessneer.

Tessneer was found in her Railroad Avenue home in Shelby. The phone lines to her house had been cut. The cause of death was difficult to determine but given the cut phone line, police called it suspicious.

Between August and November of that same year, two other women were found dead in their beds under similar circumstances.

Lottie Ledford and Lillian Mullinax both lived alone and the phone lines to their homes had also been cut.

In the early stages of the investigation, police were looking for Borders. He was called a witness and was eventually found in a homeless shelter in Charlotte.

Borders was questioned but never charged.

Shelby Police Chief Jeffrey Ledford says in recent weeks, police took another close look at Borders.

In looking at the persons of interest and the physical evidence and interviews, it brought us to where we are today, Ledford said Monday.

Tuesday morning, Tessneer's family members sat quietly, watching as Judge Ali Paksoy assigned Borders a court-appointed attorney. Tessneer's family left the courthouse without making a comment to the media.

Borders' family, including his mother and uncle, also were in court and his uncle said he had spoken with Borders after he was arrested. He said that Borders told him, He didn't do it.

Taft Borders also said his family came to support our nephew Donald Borders. ... And we just hope and pray that we get a fair trial and that the justice system will prevail.

Police say Donald Boarders, who is being held without bond, could also face charges in the deaths of Ledford and Mullinax.

(Reporters Rad Berky and Richard DeVayne contributed to this report.)

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