Coley McCraney was arrested on March 1, 2019 and charged in the August 1, 1999 deaths of 17-year-old Tracie Hawlett and 17-year-old J.B. Beasley in Ozark, Alabama. The teenage girls had disappeared after they left a party. They were found the next day in the trunk of Beasley’s car. Both victims had been shot in the head and Beasley had also been sexually assaulted.
A DNA profile was created from the sexual assault kit taken at Beasley’s autopsy, as well as sperm found on her underwear and sweater. The FGG investigation was conducted by Parabon Nanolabs. At first, the investigation turned up only third cousins on GEDmatch, but Parabon was able to submit a list of potential family surnames to police – one of which was the name McCraney. Police then asked McCraney for a voluntary DNA sample. At that time, McCraney was not a suspect, and was thought only to be a potential relative of the suspect. His own DNA turned out to be consistent with the profile obtained from the crime scene.
McCraney pled not guilty, and the case against him proceeded in Dale County, Alabama. His lawyers have claimed that McCraney is innocent and the victims were killed by a former police officer because the girls possessed evidence of police corruption.
McCraney’s trial was held in April of 2023. One of the defence’s key witnesses was expected to testify that she heard a police officer confess to killing to girls because they possessed evidence of a conspiracy among local police officers who were invoke red in the drug trade. This witness recanted her testimony under oath, and the officer who is accused of the murder also denied the allegations.
Some of this evidence has been obtained from statements made by Johnny William Barrentine, who was wrongfully charged with the murder a month after they took place. Barrentine’s statements were conflicting, and considered to be unreliable. The charges against him were then dismissed for lack of evidence. He is now deceased, but his wrongful arrest led to decades of rumours and speculation about who killed the two girls.
At trial, McCraney testified on his own behalf, claiming that he had sexual relations with Beasley a month before she was killed, but played no role in her death. He testified that he met up with her on the night of her death and that they had consensual sex in his truck. The jury did not find his testimony credible. His defence attorneys attributed this to the fact that he was nervous and failed to make a good impression.
On April 27, 2023 a jury convicted McCraney of the murders. They declined to recommend the death penalty. On June 15, 2023, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
His attorneys state that they are seeking a new trial, in part because two jurors stated that, if he were convicted, they would hold a presumption in favour of recommending the death penalty, and also because they claim jurors were reading and posting information about the trial on social media. His request for a new trial was denied by the Dale County Circuit Court on July 28, 2023.
Associated Press. “High Profile Arrest Led Alabama Police to Genealogy Testing.” The Grio, March 19, 2019. https://thegrio.com/2019/03/19/dna-genealogy-cold-case-homicide/.
Associated Press. “Man Convicted and Sentenced to Life in Prison for 1999 Killings of ‘Two Precious Girls’ in Alabama.” CBS News, April 28, 2023. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coley-mccraney-life-sentence-1999-killings-teens-tracie-hawlett-j-b-beasley-alabama/.
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Kalmbacher, Colin. “‘I Lied’: Woman Who Spent Years Alleging Alabama Police Coverup in 1999 Cold Case Murders Recants Her Story Under Oath.” Law & Crime, August 5, 2022. Accessed August 6, 2022. https://lawandcrime.com/crime/i-lied-alabama-woman-who-spent-years-alleging-police-coverup-in-1999-cold-case-murders-recants-her-story-under-oath/.
Murphy, Heather. “DNA and a Coincidence Lead to Arrest in 1999 Double Murder in Alabama.” New York Times, March 19, 2019. Accessed December 26, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/19/us/alabama-dna-murder-arrest.html.
Robinson, Carol. “Coley McCraney Denied New Trial in 1999 Murders of Alabama Teens.” AL.com, July 28, 2023. Accessed July 29, 2023. https://www.al.com/news/2023/07/coley-mccraney-denied-new-trial-in-1999-murders-of-alabama-teens.html.
Robinson, Carol. “Coley McCraney Gets Life Without Parole in Long-Unsolved 1999 Murders of Alabama Teens.” AL.com, June 15, 2023. Accessed June 16, 2023. https://www.al.com/news/2023/06/coley-mccraney-gets-life-without-parole-in-long-unsolved-1999-murders-of-alabama-teens.html.
Thornton, William. “Trial Set in 1999 Dale County Cold Case Killings of 2 Teen Girls.” Al.com, September 24, 2021. Accessed December 28, 2021. https://www.al.com/news/2021/09/trial-set-in-1999-dale-county-cold-case-killings-of-2-teen-girls.html.
Ussery, Peggy. “McCraney’s Trial Now Set for April 2023 .” Dothan Eagle, November 17, 2022. Accessed January 15, 2023. https://dothaneagle.com/news/local/mccraneys-trial-now-set-for-april-2023/article_558998ac-669a-11ed-9e8c-d37fa0d4489b.html.