A DNA match found through genealogy testing led to the arrest of a truck-driving preacher in the killings of two teen girls who were found shot to death in a car trunk nearly 20 years ago. (March 18)
A truck-driving preacher was charged Monday with killing two Alabama teenagers nearly 20 years ago after a DNA match linked him to the slayings.
Police said they analyzed genetic genealogy, matching evidence saved in a freezer to Coley McCraney, 45, of Dothan, Alabama. He may face a death penalty for murder and rape.
Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley, both 17, never made it to a party after leaving Dothan on the night of July 3, 1999. They were found the next day with gunshot wounds to the head in the trunk of Beasley’s Mazda in Ozark, about 90 miles southeast of Montgomery.
The news of McCraney’s arrest numbed Hawlett’s mother, Carol Roberts.
“God gave her to me,” Roberts said. “He didn’t have the right to do that. I just want to know why.”
McCraney, who preached recently at his own church, is cooperating with authorities, said defense attorney David Harrison.
“My heart goes out to the victims’ families,” Harrison said. “It’s a tragedy. We don’t need to make it make three tragedies by convicting him.”
McCraney’s defense lawyer said his client is an outstanding community member with grandchildren. He worked as a truck driver for several companies. Ozark Police Chief Marlos Walker said he was surprised the evidence pointed to McCraney after knowing him from living in the same town.
The killings changed the community, said Sherry Gilland, who feared letting her daughter ride her bicycle or walk far from home after the tragedy.
“It has been a cloud over the town, but now it’s lifted,” she said.
McCraney has no prior criminal record, said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, and was not a suspect before DNA testing. Police sent evidence to Parabon NanoLabs for DNA analysis, said Walker, after genetic technology cracked the Golden State Killer case in California last year.
Less than a month after the slayings, court documents show a judge ordered McCraney to submit to DNA testing because a woman alleged he fathered her daughter. McCraney did not submit a sample at that time.
But at least one of McCraney’s relatives voluntarily sent DNA included in a genealogy database called GEDmatch, said CeCe Moore, chief genetic genealogist at Parabon NanoLabs. That helped identify McCraney as the killer, and separate genetic testing matched him to evidence in the case.
District Attorney Kirke Adams said he is seeking the death penalty, adding the multiple capital charges against McCraney include killing Beasley during a rape.
“Today, all who have sought justice for Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley—including all the residents of the Wiregrass—are finally near closure in this long and painful case,” the state attorney general said in a statement.
While the defense lawyer said he is worried about McCraney getting a fair trial, Hawlett said she still remembers her last conversation with her daughter. She called to see if Beasley could spend the night after the party, which was for Beasley’s birthday.
“Last words out of her lips were, ‘Mama, I love you,’” Roberts said. “Last words out of my mouth to her were, ‘I love you.’”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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