Jury selection set to begin Monday in Coley McCraney murder trial

News4 lookback on the events that led to this trial.
Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 9:18 AM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Jury selection is set to begin Monday in the murder trial of Coley McCraney.

McCraney is charged with the murders of Dothan teens J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett. The two were found dead in July of 1999 in the trunk of Beasley’s car.

McCraney Arrested

An out-of-state lab matched McCraney as the possible killer through a genealogy report. He had not been previously identified as a suspect because McCraney has no previous record, so his DNA was not on file.

Court records indicate that McCraney was supposed to submit to a DNA test around the time of the murders as part of a paternity suit. He never followed through with the request.

Girls Get Lost

Hawlett and Beasley were headed to a field party near Headland to celebrate Beasley’s birthday. They got lost and ended up in Ozark.

They two girls stopped at a Big Little convenience store on East Broad Street, but the store was already closed for the night. Hawlett used a payphone outside the store to call her mother.

A woman and her daughter were buying a drink outside the store. They would give the girls directions back to Dothan. It was the last time anyone heard from either girl.

Ozark Cold Case Murder Map
Ozark Cold Case Murder Map(WTVY)

Girls Reported Missing, Car Located

Both girls were reported missing to Dothan police on Sunday morning, August 1. A short time later Ozark police located their vehicle not far from the gas station they were last seen at the night before.

After running the license plate of the vehicle, Ozark police reached out to Dothan police who shared that they were in the process of taking a missing person report. A search would begin for the two girls. Dothan investigators went to the location of the car. While there they realized the car trunk could be opened without the vehicle’s keys. Inside the trunk, they would find the bodies of the two girls, who had both been shot in the head.

Investigation Begins

The murders of the two girls haunted the Wiregrass region for decades and received national exposure throughout the years.

Within a week, police announced a nationwide, 24-hour hotline to receive tips. A reward fund was also started.

In the years immediately after the killing, investigators conducted more than 500 interviews, and forensics experts tested the DNA of more than 70 potential suspects, previous reports have said. phone call

False Confession

This case has had many twists and turns through the years. The first in just one month after the murders.

Johnny Barrentine went into the Ozark Police Department on September 1, 1999. He was interviewed for four hours and changed his story many times. He went so far as to place himself at the crime scene.

He was eventually placed under arrest. He then recanted his confession, claiming he was just trying to get the reward money.

No DNA Match

In December of 2019, investigators would learn that the DNA did not match with Barrentine. He would be given a bond and one month later the grand jury would decline to indict him in the case.

Others Leads

Over the years there would be several additional leads but three were considered the most significant.

  1. Surveillance video from the Big Little Store would show a white truck shortly after the girls left headed back to Dothan. Nothing would ever come of the truck.
  2. A man from Michigan was in Ozark at the time that the girls were murdered. Investigators traveled to Michigan and tested his DNA. There was no match.
  3. A man from Mississippi was in Ozark visiting relatives when the murder happened. He would leave town two days later. He would later be arrested on an outstanding warrant for possession of drug paraphernalia. His DNA was also tested but did not match.
Ozark Cold Case Investigation
Jury challenges could impact McCraney trial

Only about half of the 250 Dale County residents summoned in Coley McCraney’s upcoming murder trial are expected to show up for jury duty next week.

Coley's McCraney is led from the Dale County Courthouse in this 2019 photo.
Judge strikes blow to accused coed killer Coley McCraney's case

His attorneys hoped to implicate a now retired police officer who had been rumored as the killer, but a woman whose claims spearheaded those rumors were recanted on Thursday.

Murder suspect Coley McCraney is escorted into the Dale County courthouse on March 17, 2022

Break in the Case

Ozark Police Chief Marlos Walker decided to take another look at the case during the fall of 2018. DNA would be sent to Parabon Labs, a company that provides DNA phenotyping. The process allows law enforcement agencies to identify a potential suspect through his or her family members who have provided their DNA in genealogy databases.

In March of 2019, just months before the 20th anniversary of the case, investigators would get the news they had been waiting for. There was a match with former Ozark resident Coley McCraney.

The results were sent to the State Forensics Lab in Montgomery for double confirmation. On March 19 McCraney was taken into custody after a traffic stop in Daleville.

McCraney was taken to the Ozark Police Department where he was questioned for several hours. He would tell investigators during that interview that he did not know the girls.

Copyright 2022 WTVY. All rights reserved.

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