Man convicted, sentenced to life for 1999 slayings

Apr 27, 2023, 2:08 PM

OZARK, Ala. (AP) — A jury on Thursday ruled a man convicted of the 1999 slaying of two teenage girls should spend the rest of his life in prison.

The ruling comes a day after jurors convicted Coley McCraney, 49, of capital murder for the deaths of Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley, court records show. The panel on Thursday determined that McCraney should serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to news outlets and court records.

“We lost two precious girls…who didn’t have the opportunity to grow up and experience life,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a press conference after the sentencing decision.

Marshall, who prosecuted the case, said the verdict doesn’t bring closure but answers the question of what happened to the teens nearly 24 years ago. “Ultimately, he’s going to be able to spend the rest of his life in prison thinking about what he has done,” Marshall said.

Hawlett and Beasley, both 17, disappeared after setting off for a party in southeastern Alabama on July 31, 1999. They never returned. Their bodies were found the next day in the trunk of Beasley’s black Mazda along a road in Ozark, a city of 19,000 people about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southeast of Montgomery. Each had been shot in the head.

The slayings rocked the small southern city and sat for nearly 20 years without an arrest until police hired a company to run crime scene DNA through an online genealogy database. Police said they identified an extended family member and then asked McCraney to submit a DNA sample that they said matched the crime scene DNA. McCraney, a truck driver and preacher without a criminal record, was arrested in 2019.

The DNA evidence was the key piece of evidence for the prosecution. McCraney testified that he had sex with Beasley but did not kill her, news outlets reported.

Family members testified during the sentencing hearing about the anguish of losing their daughters.

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

J.B.’s mother, Cheryl Burgoon, said losing her daughter was something she could not get over, WSFA reported.

“It hurts so bad…I’m so angry,” Burgoon told the courtroom.

However, supporters of McCraney, who believe jurors erred in their verdict, held “Coley Strong” signs outside the courthouse or told jurors they know McCraney as a kind and religious man, news outlets reported.

“He is godly driven,” James Fuller, McCraney’s cousin, testified, according to WTVY.

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Man convicted, sentenced to life for 1999 slayings