DALE COUNTY, Ala (WDHN) — After eight long days, multiple witness testimonies, compelling closing arguments, and objections flying across the courtroom, a jury of Coley McCraney’s peers have found him guilty.
He was found guilty on two counts of capital murder-vehicle, guilty on one count of capital murder-rape, and guilty of capital murder of two or more persons.
The jury began deliberating at 11:45 Tuesday morning. The jury was a mix of men and women, with nine white jurors and three African-American jurors.
The sentencing process will begin at 9:00 a.m. Thursday morning.
McCraney was on trial for the 1999 summer murders of JB Beasley and Tracie Hawlett. He was also accused of raping Beasley. The teens were found shot to death on August 1, 1999, in the trunk of Beasley’s Mazda 929 on Herring Avenue in Ozark.
The case went cold for two decades until DNA evidence found on Beasley allegedly matched to McCraney and he was arrested on March 15, 2019. Both sides support the fact that McCraney willingly gave a DNA sample to the Ozark Police Department after OPD received a list of family names from law enforcement resources for a possible familial DNA match. McCraney’s family name was on that list.
The first two days of the trial were solely dedicated to seating a jury, which was announced late Tuesday afternoon.
On Wednesday, the prosecution called its first witnesses. For three days, an array of witnesses took the stand, including former and current law enforcement officers, a multitude of forensic scientists who worked on the case, witnesses who claimed to have seen Hawlett and Beasley the night of their murder, family members of the girls, and even Jeanette McCraney, McCraney’s current wife and girlfriend at the time of the murders.
The prosecution rested Friday and the trial picked back up on Monday with the defense’s case.
Out of an approximate 50-person witness list, the defense only called 5 people to testify, including McCraney himself.
According to McCraney, he and Beasley had previously met at the Wiregrass Commons Mall almost two months prior to the murders, and after several over the phone conversations, the two planned to meet at the Ozark gas station at 10:00 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. 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 in his truck, according to McCraney.
McCraney testified that after he and Beasley had consensual sex, the girls drove him to his house at around 12:45 and they went their separate ways.
The prosecution refutes this and claims that night McCraney was not meant to meet with Beasley and after the girls got lost heading to a field party in Headland, they ended up at the gas station in Ozark. After calling Hawlett’s parents to extend their curfew, Beasley and Hawlett were approached by McCraney, who was armed with a 9mm. handgun, and after ordering both girls into the car, they drove him to a second location where McCraney raped Beasley, put them into the trunk of Beasley’s Mazda and executed them, and then drove the car to Herring Avenue where he abandoned it and walked home, according to the prosecution.
During closing arguments, which took place Tuesday morning, the prosecution brought up the fact that after McCraney’s arrest, he initially told investigators that he had never met Beasley or Hawlett. They asked why McCraney would lie to investigators and now come forward.
During McCraney’s testimony, he told the jury that he was terrified after his arrest and that is why he never admitted to knowing the girls or having sex with Beasley.
“When they put those cuffs on me I figured they had already made their minds up,” McCraney said during his testimony.
Throughout the entire trial, the defense, led by attorney David Harrison, claimed the state had no evidence against McCraney other than his DNA. In his opening statement and closing argument, Harrison asked the jury the same question, “Where is the evidence?”
This has been one of the most significant murder trials in Wiregrass history.