This one thing could determine verdict in McCraney murder trial

Published: Aug. 1, 2022 at 11:43 AM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - How one issue is settled will go a long way in determining whether a jury finds murder suspect Coley McCraney guilty of killing two Dothan teens.

His attorneys are asking a Dale County judge to permit testimony that would cast serious doubt that McCraney shot 17-year-olds J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett in 1999.

Of course, attorneys David Harrison and Andrew Scarborough are hoping the judge permits that testimony because it would sway jurors toward returning not guilty verdicts.

But without it the trial’s outcome could very well be guilty, with DNA implicating McCraney who is also charged with raping Ms. Beasley.

Reluctant to challenge DNA reliability, “another did it” is the defense’s best strategy.

But Dale County Assistant District Attorney David Emery will oppose admitting those theories, claiming they are void of a single shred of evidence to back them up.

And, so far, there has been none.

On a sultry summer evening Ms. Beasley and Ms. Hawlett departed Dothan to attend a party, but they never arrived.

Instead of traveling northeast they headed northwest and ended up in Ozark where Ms. Hawlett phoned her mom to say they had become lost but would head home immediately.

Minutes turned into apprehension and hours to fright that something horrible had happened.

And the following day worst fears were confirmed when Ozark police found those bodies in the trunk of their Mazda 929 a few blocks from where Ms. Hawlett used that pay phone to call her mom.

Not until 20 years later did DNA implicate Coley McCraney, whose most serious charge until then had been speeding through a construction zone.

But during those two decades this murder case sizzled with rumors fueled by a grand jury that refused to indict another man who Ozark police first charged a few weeks after the murders occurred.

Johnny Barrentine, now deceased, had given conflicting information to investigators, and claimed that he witnessed a man killing the girls.

Perhaps he sought a reward that had been offered.

With Barrentine’s release, the rumor mill viciously churned again, and the perplexing murders were profiled on nationally televised crime programs.

Everyone seemed to have an opinion on whodunnit.

Then eight years ago blogger Jon Carroll reported that at least one Ozark police officer shot those teens, and his fellow officers covered up those crimes during an unfathomable conspiracy.

Carroll cites former Ozark auxiliary officer Rena Crumb as the person who uncovered the alleged conspiracy.

By 2015 social media had become dominant so Carroll’s blog, long on speculation but short on facts, went viral.

As for Crumb, she could testify Thursday in the pretrial hearing after which Judge William Filmore will decide whether to allow her testimony and that of others during the trial.

Crumb, just this summer, claimed Ozark police---all the officers from 1999 have either retired or resigned---harassed her during a traffic stop.

But an investigation revealed no evidence of that stop, current Ozark Police Chief Charles Ward told News 4 after conducting an inquiry into Crumb’s allegations.

And Jon Carroll---the man who wrote the blog implicating Ozark police could also testify.

He has withdrawn a motion to quash a subpoena he received.

Other potential witnesses are a person who attorneys say overheard a police officer confess to the crimes and a man who witnessed a police cruiser near the crime scene before the bodies were found.

Jury selection is to begin next Monday with the trial on August 15.

McCraney faces the death penalty, if convicted.

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