Coley McCraney: How A New DNA Technology Helped Solve A Cold Case

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Coley McCraney was arrested for a crime he committed 20 years ago, thanks to an advance in DNA technology.

With the help of a private lab and a public genealogy database, police in southeast Alabama arrested a man responsible for the deaths of two high school students 20 years ago.

Coley McCraney, age 45, is accused of killing J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett on August 1, 1999. Their bodies were found in the trunk of Beasley’s car. Police say McCraney is also charged with raping Beasley.

Their bodies were found in the trunk of a car by the roadside

The two best friends, who were both 17, left their home in Dothan the night before to go to a birthday party, but they got lost on the way and ended up in nearby Ozark.

Hawlett is said to have called her mother later to let her know that they had gotten directions and were on their way home, but they never made it home.

Ozark Police Chief Marlos Walker wouldn’t say how McCraney met the girls that night. McCraney is married and used to drive a truck. He also spent a short time in the military.

He said that investigators haven’t found a reason yet. But he explained how authorities were able to narrow in on McCraney as a suspect by using genetic genealogy.

According to him, this is a new DNA technology that is becoming popular with law enforcement since it was used in California to identify Joseph James DeAngelo as the suspect in the notorious “Golden State Killer” case.

Ozark Police Chief Marlos Walker who is heavily involved in the case

“The Golden State Killer happens, we see it, and we’re like, “You know what? Let’s give it a try,’ “Walker said.

How The New Method Works-Parabon NanoLabs

The method uses public DNA databases where people who have their own DNA profiles from commercial companies like and 23andMe can upload them to find more relatives.

Since DeAngelo’s arrest, other cold case investigators have used unidentified suspect DNA profiles to search public databases of genetic blueprints in the hopes of finding a “partial match,” or a relative, and making a family tree to narrow down the search for a suspect.

Coley is now a pastor, Everyone was surprised when he was arrested

Concerns about privacy have been raised about the method, but it gives investigators a new way to find answers when they have unidentified DNA profiles from crime scenes but can’t find a match in the FBI’s national criminal database. Since McCraney had never been arrested before, his DNA wasn’t in a database called Combined DNA Index System(CODIS) because it wasn’t there.

Walker said that his department worked with a private lab in Virginia called Parabon NanoLabs to run the analysis using the public database GEDMatch.

The two best friends were 17 when they were killed

The method uses a profile made from DNA found at the scene of the crime. Investigators found a relative of McCraney, which helped them figure out that he was a suspect. Walker said that McCraney’s DNA sample confirmed that it was the same as the DNA found at the crime scene. He was arrested near Daleville during a traffic stop.

Parabon Nanolabs uses DNA to predict someone’s physical appearance such as the images below

A work by Parabon Nanolabs

Walker said that McCraney’s DNA sample confirmed that it was the same as the DNA found at the crime scene. He was arrested near Daleville during a traffic stop.

Walker said he knew McCraney, who went to school in Ozark, and was “very surprised” when the match came up.

Walker stated , “Everyone I talked to said the same thing.” “But you can’t fool DNA.”

He said that arrest was “long overdue” for the community, law enforcement, and the families of the people who were killed.

People were relieved to know who committed the crime.

District Attorney Kirke Adams said that he would seek the death penalty for McCraney because he was facing multiple charges that could lead to the death penalty. He said that McCraney was being held in the Dale County jail without bail and that a preliminary hearing would be set up.

He told the families of the victims, “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through or what you’re thinking about right now.”

“I promise you that J.B. and Tracie will be heard through my office,” he said.

The new trial for Coley Lewis McCraney is set to start on April 17, 2023.

Source: Vocal Media

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