Story by Carol Robinson, al.com • Apr 26
A 49-year-old Alabama was convicted Wednesday of capital murder in the brutal 1999 murders of two high school seniors in the Wiregrass.
The convictions are for two counts of capital murder-vehicle, one count of capital murder-rape, and capital murder of two or more persons.
He was arrested for the slayings in 2019 after authorities say a DNA match was found through a family DNA website in a genealogy search.
McCraney’s trial began April 17, and the sentencing phase of the trial will begin on Thursday. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The murders of the girls’ haunted the Wiregrass region for decades and been given national exposure on television networks throughout the years. The friends, both 17, were on their way home from Beasley’s birthday party when they got lost in Ozark on July 31, 1999.
According to Hawlett’s mother, Carole Roberts, the girls had been lost and could not understand the directions they were given before stopping at a convenience store in Ozark. They had been on their way home from a party in Headland.
The girls were found the next day inside the trunk of Beasley’s black Mazda 929, on the side of Herring Avenue about one block away from the Dale County hospital. Both girls had each been shot once to the head, but there were no other signs of foul play. The girls’ jewelry, purses and money were not missing and state forensics experts at the time said neither girl had been raped.
Within a week, police announced a nationwide, 24-hour hotline to received tips and a reward fund quickly grew to $15,000 in donations from area residents. Then-Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman announce another $10,000 in state funds.
In the years immediately after the killing, investigators conducted more than 500 interviews, overworked forensics experts and tested the DNA of more than 70 potential suspects.
At the time of McCraney’s 2019 arrest, Ozark Police Chief Police Chief said the 2018 arrest of the alleged Golden State Killer through use of a genealogy and DNA database sparked the chain of events that led to the break in the Alabama cold case. The department reached out to Parabon NanoLabs in Virginia, which specializes in DNA engineering.
Walker said they started the process in August 2018, and it culminated in the arrest of Coley McCraney, a truck driver who spent some time in the military and has led a crime-free, low-profile life up until the time he was taken into custody.
McCraney took the stand in his own defense during the week-long trial.
He said they had previously met her at the Wiregrass Commons Mall almost two months prior to the murders, and the two planned to meet at the Ozark gas station at 10 p.m. on July 31, 1999.
When Beasley was late, he said he went to his mother’s house to wait on a call from Beasley but never received one.
McCraney says after leaving his mother’s house at around 11:30 p.m. to head home, his alternator gave out and the car broke down at the same gas station where he finally saw Beasley and Hawlett at a pay phone, the television station reported.
After talking to Beasley for a few minutes, he got in her car and gave the girls directions to Highway 231, after which they stopped at another gas station next to the highway where his semi-truck was parked, where he and Beasley had sex in the cab of his truck.
McCraney testified that after he and Beasley had consensual sex, the girls drove him to his house at around 12:45 a.m. and they went their separate ways.