Mothers describe anguish after their daughters’ murders

Murder suspect Coley McCraney leaves the Dale County Courthouse on April 18, 2023. His...
Murder suspect Coley McCraney leaves the Dale County Courthouse on April 18, 2023. His attorneys David Harrison (to his left) and Andrew Scarborough (ahead with satchel) accompany him(wtvy)
Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 11:12 AM CDT
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OZARK, Ala. (WTVY) - Prosecutors told jurors that the families of murder victims JB Beasley and Tracie Hawlett trust them to do the right thing in deciding punishment for Coley McCraney, convicted of Capital Murder on Wednesday.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall thanked them for their diligence during the trial that concludes with the penalty phase.

The jury must decide whether McCraney, 49, dies or serves the remainder of his life in prison with no chance of parole for shooting 17-year-old Tracie Hawlett and JB Beasley.

“I think the hardest thing that we’ve gone through is holidays with an empty chair that Tracie should have been in,” testified Carol Roberts, her mother.

Grief-stricken, Roberts said she trusted God to get her through the ordeal but, as she fought back tears, told of missing her daughter so severely that she would travel to her gravesite to feel close to her.

“I think I was blessed from having Tracie for 17 years,” she told jurors. “I learned a lot from her.”

McCraney, who denied killing the girls, he listened to testimony from those impacted most by the crimes.

Beasley’s mother, Cheryl Burgoon, told jurors she had been active in church and civic affairs but became withdrawn after the 1999 murders and sank into depression.

“I have a hole inside of me. I hurt so bad,” Burgoon tearfully testified.

But defense attorneys hoped to sway jurors to spare his life with witnesses who testified to his character.

His cousin, James Fuller, described watching an Alabama-Auburn game with McCraney, who prayed for solace when tempers flared during the game.

“He is Godly driven,” Fuller testified.

Friend Sharla Godwin said she had known McCraney for over 20 years and often prayed with her.

“I love you, Coley,” longtime friend Chancy Smith said to McCraney after describing him to jurors as a God-fearing man.

Several others described the convicted murderer as a great family man and promised to continue a relationship with him when he goes to prison, some believing he will continue his ministry behind bars.

A Dale County corrections officer described McCraney as maybe the best inmate in the county jail over the past dozen years he has worked there.

Outside the Dale County Courthouse, about a dozen supporters held “Coley Strong” signs, believing the jury erred in its verdict.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and his prosecution team relied on DNA to convict McCraney, who police arrested 20 years after Hawlett and Beasley unmercifully died in the trunk of their car.

McCraney admits he had sex with Beasley but told jurors he did not kill her and Hawlett, though prosecutors believe he concocted it only to explain the DNA.

Jurors will deliberate his fate, expected to return their decision Thursday afternoon or Friday.

View more testimony here.

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