DA: DNA evidence linking N Carolina murder suspect to earlier 2016 rape was never followed up by police

This undated photo provided by Robeson County Sheriff's Office shows Michael Ray McLellan. A statement issued by the FBI says McLellan has been charged in connection with the kidnapping and murder of 13-year-old Hania Noelia Aguilar. The 34-year-old McLellan faces first degree murder and other charges. He is being held without bond in the Robeson County Detention Center. He will appear in court at the Robeson County Courthouse on Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. (Robeson County Sheriff's Office via AP)

LUMBERTON, N.C. (AP) 12/12 — A North Carolina prosecutor says authorities failed to act last year on evidence linking a 2016 rape to a released felon now accused of raping and killing a 13-year-old girl.

Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt said Tuesday that deputies didn’t follow up after DNA evidence from the earlier rape matched that of Michael Ray McLellan. Only after McClellan’s DNA was again found, this time in a vehicle involved in the kidnapping of Hania Noelia Aguilar, did authorities connect the cases.

“At some point, it obviously fell through the cracks,” Britt said in a News & Observer report. “You hate it. You punch yourself.”

McLellan, 34, is now jailed on charges of raping and killing Hania, who was kidnapped from outside her Lumberton home on Nov. 5. Authorities said she was forced into an SUV. Her body and the SUV were later found several miles away.

This image released by the FBI shows a missing person poster for Hania Aguilar. Aguilar was kidnapped Nov. 5, 2018, from a Robeson County, N.C., mobile home park after going outside to start a relative’s SUV before school. (FBI via AP)

 

Investigators said DNA collected from the SUV was instrumental in leading to McLellan’s arrest. McLellan’s DNA had been collected for the federal database after he was convicted in 2007 of felony assault with a deadly weapon and first-degree burglary.

But that information wasn’t utilized by law enforcement after he was paroled in 2016.

Later that year, a woman was attacked by a man who removed an air-conditioner from a home, crawled through a window and assaulted her at knifepoint. Britt says she had tried to defend herself with a gun, but it didn’t fire.

As the state crime lab worked to reduce a backlog of ignored rape kits last year, it discovered that DNA from the 2016 kit matched McLellan. Britt said that information was sent to the district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office, and should have prompted investigators to obtain a new DNA sample from McLellan to confirm the test, but no one followed up. McLellan remained free.

The area where Hania Aguilar’s body was found off Wire Grass Road in Lumberton is photographed on November 28, 2018. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/The Fayetteville Observer via AP)

 

In February, he was convicted of felony breaking and entering, and motor vehicle larceny — and released in June, with credit for time served.

In October, police said he pointed a gun at a woman, tried to take her car and demanded money. He left that scene without hurting the woman, and surrendered to police in that case on Nov. 13, eight days after Hania was kidnapped.

Prosecutors charged McLellan in Hania’s case while he was in custody for the October attack, but didn’t publicly identify him until Saturday, the day of Hania’s funeral. Only after that did they charge him with rape and burglary in the 2016 case.

Officials say McClellan will be appointed public defenders, including those who specialize in death penalty cases.

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Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com

https://apnews.com/51bd69932880499f9701f7ec868ffd3c

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in: Arrests, Assault, Crime & Criminals, DNA Evidence, Forensics/DNA Evidence, Homicide, Juveniles, Kidnapping/Hostages, Murder/Attempted Murder, Negligence, Parole, Prohibited Person/Felon in Possession, Public Safety, Robbery, Sexual Assault/Sexual Misconduct, Sheriffs, State Attorneys, Victims of Crime

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