DNA leads to arrest in 1990 Labor Day murder case


On Saturday, 51-year-old Michael Wayne Devaughn of Rienzi, Mississippi, was arrested on one count of capital murder and one count of sexual battery.

By: 
Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

After injustice has lingered in Starkville’s 1990 Labor Day cold case for 28 years, DNA evidence finally led to the arrest of a single suspect.

On Saturday, 51-year-old Michael Wayne Devaughn of Rienzi, Mississippi, was arrested on one count of capital murder and one count of sexual battery.

The affidavit of Devaughn’s arrest states he was arrested on both charges after the DNA from his cigarette butt matched DNA evidence from the scene of the crime.

Devaughn’s arrest is in relation to an incident that led to the death of Betty Jones and the sexual assault of Kathryn Crigler on Labor Day in 1990 in the 300 block of Lee Street, now Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.

The affidavit states Devaughn killed Jones by “cutting her throat with a knife.”

Devaughn’s bond is currently set to $10 million for his charge of capital murder and $1 million for his charge of sexual battery.

There are currently no additional suspects in the case.

Devaughn was transferred into the custody of the Oktibbeha County Jail late Saturday evening at 9 p.m.

Prior to his arrest by Starkville authorities, Devaughn was out on bond for an unrelated felony charge from the Tishomingo County Sheriff’s Office.

Tishomingo County Sheriff John Daugherty confirmed Devaughn was arrested on a drug-related charge in June for a felony possession of methamphetamine.

“A LONG JOURNEY”

Devaughn’s arrest is largely due to the dedication of SPD Administrative Sergeant Bill Lott, the case’s lead investigator since 2004, which comes after 28 years and 60 failed DNA tests.

“It’s been a long journey,” Lott said at a press conference Monday as he pushed through a surge of emotions. “But I would do it all over again.”

Lott still remembers the day he was given the case by former Starkville Police Chief David Lindley.

“I got handed the case because the captain who had it, David Lindley, was becoming chief and he said, ‘I can’t carry this anymore. You’re going to have to carry it,’” Lott said.

A DNA profile from the sexual assault kit performed on Crigler was developed in Scales Lab in 2005, and Lott said the profile was the key to solving the case.

“The science has allowed us to get to where we are today,” Lott said. “Most especially I want to thank God for all the answered prayers here. We wouldn’t be here without that.”

Close to a month ago, Parabon NanoLabs revealed several possible suspects to SPD in the cold case.

The revelation made the case active again and SPD Detective Sgt. William Durr was brought onto the case.

In concurrence with Lott, Durr said the secret weapon for bringing a suspect to the case was prayer.

“Our secret weapon is we stopped each step of this (case) and prayed before we did anything,” Durr said of he and Lott.

“This has been a long time coming,” Lott said of the positive DNA match. “And a lot of hard work and a lot of my own personal time— I’m personally invested in this case.”

After Lott learned Devaughn’s DNA was an exact match for the DNA from Crigler’s sexual assault kit, he said he had trouble believing the news.

“I didn’t believe it,” Lott said. “This case has fought me all the way, so to finally have a clear cut victory like that where you have a clear route to a suspect … I was just in shock. I couldn’t believe it.”

“I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster before with this case,” Lott added. “So I had learned to temper my emotions. I wanted to get excited, but I wanted to just stay calm.”

Durr said he thinks God has been working through Lott to solve the case since Lott received it in 2004.

“Because of his dedication,” Durr said of Lott. “I feel like God just laid it on him and his persistence, and that’s what solved it.”

Durr is not alone in attributing the arrest of Devaughn Saturday to Lott’s determination on the case.

Mayor Lynn Spruill was the first to thank Lott and the SPD at the press conference Monday.

“This is a historic day,” Spruill said. “All I want to say is how proud I am of our Starkville Police Department, and particularly Sgt. Lott who is the detective who just pushed and pushed and made this happen.”

SPD Chief Frank Nichols said Lott told Nichols he would work on the case after hours for free due to limited manpower at the department.

“I said, ‘is this man crazy?’” Nichols said. “But it was that kind of dedication that he was driven to, to make sure that this person was brought to justice.”

“I can’t say enough about this young man,” Nichols added. “Law enforcement needs him. He refused to give up.”

Nichols said the arrest makes him proud to be a member of SPD and Starkville’s community as a whole.

“To know that we have people like Sgt. Lott who work in this department— his dedication, his unwillingness to stop or say, ‘hey, I don’t think we’re going to solve this case’— It makes me realize that even if I retire, even if I’m gone, there are still great people like him who are going to take care of us,” Nichols said.

Nichols said he hoped Devaughn’s arrest could give closure to the other police officers who have worked on the case as well.

“I think it’s just a great day for law enforcement, period,” Nichols said. “To realize that the technology we have now can do this and bring somebody to justice after 28 years.”

Nichols said he also hoped the arrest could give the victims’ families closure.

“With this case, first and foremost, I’m most happy for the family,” Nichols said. “Hopefully this can give them a little bit of closure.”

MOVING FORWARD: “JUST THE BEGINNING”

In Starkville Municipal Court Monday evening, Municipal Court Judge Rodney Faver appointed Stephanie Mallete as Devaughn’s defense attorney.

Devaughn is currently set to appear before Municipal Court again with Mallette on Oct. 11.

For his charge of capital murder, Devaughn could face up to death or life in prison without parole, and he could face up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for his charge of sexual battery.

With Devaughn now in custody, his case will soon be in the hands of District Attorney Scott Colom.

“I feel confident with the district attorney’s office,” Lott said. “I believe we’re going to see justice served…and it’s well overdue.”

Colom said he has been working on the case with SPD for the three and a half years he has served as district attorney.

“Our office has been working with SPD as they’ve investigated and as they’ve developed the suspect,” Colom said. “Now that there’s been an arrest, our job will be to present the case to a grand jury at the earliest possibility.”

“And if we’re able to get an indictment from the grand jury, we’ll prosecute this case to the full extent of the law,” Colom added. “No crime remains unsolved.”

Colom said the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court January term is most likely the soonest the case could be presented to a grand jury

Colom also said Devaughn could face additional charges or charges that could carry additional punishment related to the case.

“This isn’t the end. We’re just starting the prosecution process,” Colom said. “To me, it’s a proud day for the city of Starkville, the SPD and really it’s a testament to the courage and tenacity of one individual police officer, because we wouldn’t be here today without Detective Lott.”

“His passion for solving this crime really is a true profile of courage,” Colom added. “I’m happy to be a part of it, but this is just the beginning.”

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