A jury has found Anthony Palma guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 8-year-old Kirsten Hatfield.
The 12-person jury deliberated for about a hour and a half before reaching its decision Friday afternoon. The jury is recommending a sentence of life without parole.
It has been a very emotional week for Kirsten Hatfield's family. They have been holding out hope for 20 years that justice would come for the little girl who went missing from her bedroom.
Prosecutors were confident Anthony Palma would pay for the murder of Hatfield, even though her body has never been found.
"I wouldn't say it was difficult to prove really," said Scott Rowland, Oklahoma Co. Assistant District Attorney.
"The jury got it. The defense tried their best to cast some doubt on whether or not Kirsten was dead."
Palma did not react when the judge read the guilty verdict, and he did not say anything when he was escorted in handcuffs back to county jail.
Palma lived two houses down from 8-year-old Kirsten when she disappeared in 1997. He was not suspected of abducting and killing her until 2015.
Hatfield's mother Shannon Hazen never gave up looking for her daughter or praying for justice.
"I can't explain, but we are just floored by this miracle and so thankful," said Hazen.
"It puts our hope back in the criminal justice system and thankful to a gracious and powerful God."
Hazen's other daughter Faith Daniels, who was only three at the time of her sister's disappearance was also in the courtroom to hear the verdict. She was surrounded by her parents and church family.
"It's just amazing," said Daniels. "Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus and everybody here."
Prosecutors said the search for Hatfield's body will continue, with or without a confession from Palma.
"So far, we haven't seen any kind of remorse or movement in that regard," said Asst. DA Rowland. "But, I'm hopeful someday we will."
The victim's family said they plan to celebrate Friday and thanked the Midwest City detective who re-opened the case and the prosecutors who fought for them in court.
Palma's formal sentencing will take place on Monday, November 27.