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DNA hit helps solve 20 year old murder, says AG Cooper

Release date: 10/11/2006

Kinston: A murder committed more than twenty years ago has been solved thanks to good investigative work including DNA analysis by the SBI Crime Lab, Attorney General Roy Cooper said today.

“Once again, this incredible technology has helped solve a murder case and bring justice for a victims’ family,” Cooper said. “Our investment in more DNA experts at the SBI Crime Lab will help convict another suspected murderer.”

DNA analysis of evidence by the State Bureau of Investigation’s Forensic Biology lab identified Johnny Ray Mewborne, 44, as a suspect in a murder, rape and robbery committed at a Kinston convenience store in February of 1985. Kinston Police and the SBI today arrested Mewborne who is currently serving a life sentence as a habitual felon for robbing Kinston convenience stores. The arrest was announced by Kinston Police at a press conference today.

Early on Saturday, February 23, 1985, Kinston Police got a report that Benita Green Murphy was missing from her job at the Scotchman Convenience Store at 2405 North Queen Street. Murphy’s body was discovered later that day off Rural Paved Road 1556 in Lenoir County. An autopsy revealed that she had been raped and stabbed.

SBI agents worked with the Kinston Police and the Lenoir County Sheriff’s Office to follow many leads over the course of 21 years of investigation. In 2005, an SBI agent and Kinston Police officer developed a new lead that triggered reexamination of evidence from the crime. Investigators submitted evidence collected in the case to the SBI Crime Lab for DNA analysis. The Lab developed a DNA profile of the suspect and used it to search the state’s database of convicted offender DNA, getting a hit, or match, to Mewborne’s DNA.

Cooper has long pushed to expand North Carolina’s ability to use DNA evidence to convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent. He led the fight in 2003 to have North Carolina include all felons in its convicted offender DNA database, giving detectives a greater field to search. The database has more than doubled in size since then, helping to solve more cases. The SBI Crime Lab has gotten 363 hits in 2005 and 2006, more than double the number of hits to the database in the prior decade.

“DNA can pinpoint a suspect,” said Cooper. “A DNA match means investigators can confront a suspect with the truth and put a rapist or murderer behind bars.”

Cooper has also won more DNA experts so that the lab can work cases more quickly and is expanding the SBI Crime Lab to improve the efficiency of DNA testing. He plans to continue to ask legislators for more DNA experts to help law enforcement solve crimes and get murderers and rapists off the streets.