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Murder DNA leads police to suspect 35 years on

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Accused: Daniel Wells

Accused: Daniel Wells

Accused: Daniel Wells

New DNA evidence has led to the arrest of a 57-year-old man 35 years after the murder of a young mother in Florida.

Cold-case investigators detained Daniel Wells in connection with the killing of 23-year-old Tonya McKinley in Pensacola.

Mr Wells was arrested after DNA was found on a cigarette thrown from a car which matched a sample obtained from the crime scene.

Ms McKinley was found in the early morning of New Year's Day 1985, strangled and sexually assaulted.

Police said Ms McKinley's body was discovered "discarded on the side of a road".

Her 18-month-old baby was left without a mother as a result of the murder.

Police had made no arrests in relation to the crime before Mr Wells was detained.

"Despite having a good bit of physical evidence and dozens of interviews, over time the trail went cold," Pensacola police said.

"It seems that every couple of years a new lead would pop up and we would drop everything to run it down.

"We did this time and time again. In the meantime, a baby boy grew up without a mother, parents buried their daughter without knowing justice and a killer was walking around free."

New advances in technology allowed the police to compare DNA from a cigarette the police surreptitiously acquired from Mr Wells.

The DNA matched a sample from the crime scene and the police made the arrest.

Police used open-source genealogy databases to compare the DNA from the scene. It led to a family tree of people who were investigated and police then identified Mr Wells as the leading suspect.

They tailed him and picked up a cigarette he discarded while driving, leading to a DNA match.

Mr Wells is facing charges of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual battery.

Mr McKinley's son, Timothy Davidson Jr, who was just a baby at the time of his mother's murder, spoke about the sadness of growing up without her.

"My mom, she never got to raise me, never got to be a part of my life," Mr Davidson said.

Ms McKinley's sister, Renee McCall (62), said: "I didn't really know if this [arrest] would ever happen.

"I didn't really think this would happen in my lifetime, not after 35 years."

Irish Independent