An Alabama preacher has been arrested for the 1999 cold case murders of two 17-year-old girls thanks to DNA testing, officials said Monday.
Colin McCraney, 45, was charged Friday with five counts of capital murder and one count of rape in the first degree, according to Ozark Police Chief Marlos Walker. The arrest comes nearly two decades after police found J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett dead inside their car. McCraney could face the death penalty if convicted.
Walker said that he was inspired to reach out to a DNA tech company in Virginia last fall to assist in the investigation after hearing that similar testing led to an arrest in the Golden State Killer case.
Genetic genealogy helped police in identifying McCraney and investigators eventually collected a DNA sample from him, which they said matched DNA found at the crime scene.
Walker said he knew the suspect from living in the same city for many years. His defense attorney David Harrison told the Daily News that McCraney has “an impeccable record in the community” and is an ordained minister who, just three weeks ago, preached the teachings of the Bible.
Harrison questioned the evidence the police have, including the DNA sample.
“I haven’t seen any evidence of that. I’ve heard a lot of talk about it, but I haven’t seen it,” he said.
Beasley and Hawlett, students at Northview High School in Dothan, were headed to a party on July 31, 1999. They got lost on their way there after reading the directions incorrectly and ended up some 20 miles northwest in Ozark, according to WDHN.
Hawlett’s mother, Carol Roberts, reportedly said the girls called her from a gas station and said they were on their way home.
They never made it back.
Their bodies were discovered around 9 a.m. the next day inside the black Mazda sedan they were driving. They both had gunshot wounds to their heads.
Walker did not disclose a motive for the murders.
Officials said that while there are five capital murder charges, they only related to the two murders.
McCraney was charged separately for one count of murder by the defendant during rape, two counts of murder where two or more persons are murdered by the defendant and two counts of murder committed by a deadly weapon in a vehicle.
The rape charge related to Beasley.
McCraney, who grew up in Ozark and attended school there, is being held at the Dale County Jail. A preliminary hearing will be set within the next few weeks.
Alabama’s Attorney General Steve Marshall told the families, who attended the press conference, that he hoped the arrest would bring some closure for them.