STARKVILLE – Michael Wayne Devaughn was able to elude murder charges for more than 28 years, but he was not able to escape modern technology.
Advancements in DNA testing, specifically genetic genealogy, led Starkville police last week straight to Devaughn, who was sitting in the Tishomingo County Jail on an unrelated drug charge.
During a Monday morning press conference, Sgt. Bill Lott, the Starkville Police Department cold case detective, formally announced that Devaughn, 51, of County Road 8340, Rienzi, was charged with the capital murder of Betty Jones and the sexual assault of Kathryn Crigler. He is being held on a total bond of $11 million and is scheduled to have his initial appearance in municipal court Monday night.
"It's really overwhelming to finally have a suspect," Lott said. "And today is Betty's birthday. So to be able to announce that someone has been charged on what would have been her 93rd birthday is even more special."
Dubbed the Labor Day Murders, the crime happened on Sept. 3, 1990 at a house on Highway 182 across the street from the Sunflower Grocery store, which is now Speller Furniture and Rick’s Cafe. Between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., a male entered 307 Lee St. and killed Jones, 65. He then raped and brutally assaulted Crigler, 81. She survived to call 911. She was transported to the Oktibbeha County Hospital where rape evidence was gathered. Crigler died from her injuries about two months later.
Very little forensic evidence was recovered at the scene. At the time of the crime, DNA testing was still years in the future. When Lott took over the case in 2004, one of the first things he did was send the rape kit in for further testing, and a seminal DNA profile of the suspect was developed.
Devaughn had never been a suspect until genetic genealogy put police on his trail several months ago. Earlier this year, police sent the DNA profile to Parabon, a private genetics company, to compare the suspect's DNA sample to a public genealogy DNA database looking for people with similar DNA profiles who might be kin to the suspect. That eventually led authorities to look at Devaughn.
"It took us about a month and a half to get to this point," Lott said. "There are a lot of moving parts. You can't just go out and arrest them."
Lott and other investigators had to start looking into Devaughn's past for things that might tie him to the crime. They also had to secretly get a sample of his DNA to compare to the suspect profile.
"We got the DNA to the lab on Friday evening and we had results Saturday morning," Lott said.
Officials drove to Iuka Saturday and picked up Devaughn, who was arrested by Tishomingo County deputy sheriffs June 20 for possession of methamphetamine following a traffic stop in Iuka. Devaughn was returned to Starkville and booked into the Oktibbeha County Jail.
In 1990, the Oktibbeha County coroner said Crigler's death was a direct result of the rape and assault and ruled her death a homicide. At this point, Devaughn has not been charged with her death. It could be hard to convince a jury of the connection between the assault/rape and her death two months later.
"That is still under investigation," said District Attorney Scott Colom, "We may very well get some new information that will allow us to pursue a second capital murder charge.
"We are going to do everything in our power to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law as quickly as possible. Too much time has already passed."
Now that Devaughn has been named a suspect, police are asking anyone who has any information about the crime or Devaughn to please contact the Starkville Police Department at (662) 323-4131.