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: 314710

Reported Deaths: 7254
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21646260
Hinds20369416
Harrison17949309
Rankin13643278
Jackson13450246
Madison10113217
Lee9986174
Jones8384163
Forrest7689152
Lauderdale7198240
Lowndes6403148
Lamar623686
Lafayette6203119
Washington5341134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462998
Panola4596107
Pearl River4519146
Marshall4450103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420872
Monroe4115133
Union411176
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3969110
Hancock379586
Leflore3498125
Sunflower336290
Tate334784
Pike3327105
Scott316274
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311770
Itawamba300577
Copiah297465
Coahoma295579
Simpson295388
Tippah288768
Adams286982
Prentiss280060
Marion269380
Leake268473
Wayne262841
Grenada261587
Covington259881
George248148
Newton246862
Winston227581
Tishomingo227067
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw208057
Holmes189174
Clay185554
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178941
Clarke178080
Calhoun170932
Yalobusha164638
Smith162534
Walthall134245
Greene130633
Lawrence128724
Montgomery127142
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton100025
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83923
Quitman81116
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67531
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 539829

Reported Deaths: 11038
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson798271529
Mobile41261809
Madison35132506
Tuscaloosa25915455
Shelby25294249
Montgomery24705593
Baldwin21392310
Lee15987172
Calhoun14569319
Morgan14422280
Etowah13918353
Marshall12275225
Houston10641282
Elmore10147206
Limestone10065151
St. Clair9946245
Cullman9761194
Lauderdale9457243
DeKalb8865188
Talladega8339176
Walker7260278
Autauga7001108
Jackson6836112
Blount6771139
Colbert6320135
Coffee5578118
Dale4876113
Russell445138
Chilton4369113
Franklin426282
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4044153
Escambia394777
Chambers3590123
Dallas3568153
Clarke351461
Marion3137101
Pike311977
Lawrence302698
Winston275773
Bibb264564
Geneva254078
Marengo249665
Pickens234862
Barbour232056
Hale223978
Butler219069
Fayette212662
Henry189643
Cherokee184645
Randolph182442
Monroe178141
Washington167739
Macon161150
Clay157157
Crenshaw153557
Cleburne149641
Lamar143236
Lowndes140553
Wilcox127430
Bullock123242
Conecuh110829
Coosa109228
Perry107826
Sumter104932
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
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