Truck driving preacher charged with killing Alabama teens

"God gave her to me. He didn't have the right to do that. I just want to know why."

Posted: Mar 18, 2019 4:56 PM

OZARK, Ala. (AP) — A truck driving preacher charged with killing two Alabama teenagers found shot to death in a car trunk nearly 20 years ago was tied to the killings through a DNA match uncovered with genetic genealogy testing, authorities said Monday.

The analysis linked evidence that sat in a police freezer for years to Coley McCraney, 45, of Dothan, Alabama, police said. The man now faces a potential death penalty in the killings in 1999 of Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley, both 17.

Hawlett's mother, Carol Roberts, said she went numb when she heard of McCraney's arrest.

"God gave her to me. He didn't have the right to do that. I just want to know why," said Roberts, who wore a button featuring her daughter's photo at the news conference announcing the arrest.

McCraney, who has his own church and preached recently, 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."

Ozark Police Chief Marlos Walker said he knew McCraney from living in the same city and was surprised when DNA testing linked him to the slayings. He credited science, diligence, and divine intervention with the arrest.

"I'm a spiritual guy, so it was all God's work," Walker said.

The girls left Dothan the night of July 3, 1999, to attend a party, but never arrived. They were found the next day in the trunk of Beasley's black Mazda along a road in Ozark, a city of 19,000 people located about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southeast of Montgomery. Each had a gunshot wound to the head.

Sherry Gilland, who lived near a store where the girls were last seen, said the killings changed the community. Afterward, Gilland said, she was afraid to let her own daughter ride her bicycle or walk too far from home.

"It has been a cloud over the town, but now it's lifted," she said.

A judge ordered McCraney to submit to DNA testing less than a month after the slayings because a woman filed suit claiming he was the father of her daughter, court documents show. But he failed to submit a sample and was ordered to pay child support.

Last year's arrest of "Golden State Killer" suspect Joseph DeAngelo in California — in which genealogy testing helped identify the suspect — helped prompt police to send their evidence to Parabon NanoLabs in Reston, Virginia, for DNA analysis, Walker said.

Walker described three rounds of genetic testing that led to McCraney's arrest. The first gave authorities an unknown suspect and then a genetic genealogy test identified a family. Kinship testing "ultimately narrowed it down to a single person," Walker said.

At least one relative of McCraney had voluntarily submitted DNA that was included in a genealogy database called GEDmatch and helped make the identification, according to CeCe Moore, chief genetic genealogist with Parabon NanoLabs.

Separate genetic testing later matched McCraney to evidence in the case, the police chief said.

District Attorney Kirke Adams said he would seek the death penalty against McCraney. The multiple capital charges against McCraney include one of killing Beasley during a rape, he said.

A different suspect was previously cleared after his DNA didn't match semen found on Beasley.

Harrison, the defense lawyer, said McCraney is an outstanding community member who is married with children and grandchildren. Aside from preaching, records show he worked as a truck driver for years for several different companies.

The slayings haunted the community for years and Harrison said he was concerned about his client getting a fair trial.

"It's going to be difficult to find a jury that's not already aware of the facts," he said. "I might have to ask that it be moved to another venue to get a fair trial. A lot of emotions are flying."

Hawlett had two school-age brothers at the time of her death and Roberts said the whole family slept in the same bed for a time after the slayings out of fear. She still remembers her last conversation with her daughter, who 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,'" said Roberts. "Last words out of my mouth to her were, 'I love you.'"

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 512632

Reported Deaths: 10262
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34853555
DeSoto33162432
Hinds32556641
Jackson24830389
Rankin22442402
Lee16238242
Madison14874283
Jones14086247
Forrest13741259
Lauderdale12249324
Lowndes11286193
Lamar10644140
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Lafayette8827143
Hancock7835132
Washington7550169
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Monroe6989179
Pontotoc6970109
Warren6849178
Panola6746134
Neshoba6726210
Marshall6653141
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Union633897
Pike5924156
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George510180
Prentiss500884
Tippah490282
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Tate4748116
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Attala337790
Winston317792
Chickasaw313367
Clay311878
Clarke301195
Calhoun284449
Holmes271289
Smith268952
Yalobusha243747
Tallahatchie231453
Greene224749
Walthall221366
Lawrence217840
Perry213356
Amite209557
Webster205148
Noxubee188642
Montgomery181557
Carroll174441
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152639
Kemper144941
Choctaw136527
Claiborne134238
Humphreys131139
Franklin124929
Quitman107528
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96834
Sharkey65121
Issaquena1957
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 844951

Reported Deaths: 16115
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161002006
Mobile741871379
Madison53279732
Shelby38325368
Baldwin38068589
Tuscaloosa36009641
Montgomery34482781
Lee25550263
Calhoun22585518
Morgan22451406
Etowah20013517
Marshall18777316
Houston17727425
St. Clair16875358
Limestone16135218
Cullman16044303
Elmore15904294
Lauderdale14968306
Talladega14189299
DeKalb12967269
Walker12020380
Blount10714192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10157194
Coffee9414192
Colbert9334208
Dale9018191
Tallapoosa7254201
Russell707765
Chilton7018170
Escambia6955143
Covington6932195
Franklin6340108
Chambers5783142
Marion5401130
Dallas5285209
Pike5118109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369480
Butler3434100
Marengo342393
Monroe337066
Randolph334367
Pickens333188
Fayette330085
Henry320666
Hale318189
Cherokee317563
Crenshaw260477
Washington256952
Cleburne254460
Lamar251253
Clay250869
Macon244764
Conecuh192762
Coosa184947
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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