COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – A cold case is solved, and the suspect is now headed to prison for the rest of his life.
Michael Devaughn pleaded guilty late Tuesday afternoon to the murder of Betty Jones of Starkville. A second charge of the sexual battery of Kathryn Crigler was dismissed for the deal.
Devaughn has agreed to life in prison without parole.
This is closure for family members who have waited 30 years for justice.
What started in this house 30 years ago, ends today in this Lowndes County court room.
Judge Coleman: “Are you guilty of capital murder?”
Devaughn: “Yes, sir.”
Jennifer Taylor is the niece of Betty Jones, the woman murdered by Devaughn, she said this moment has been a long time coming for family members.
“Anniversaries come and go. Developments maybe start happening and then fall through, but this was done correctly by Bill Lott of Starkville Police Department. I can’t speak enough about Bill Lott. He kept his word. He never gave up. He saw it through and he got it done and the guy got arrested and today Justice has been served,” said Taylor.
Bill Lott– the lead investigator, said cracking this cold case wasn’t easy.
“Justice delayed is justice denied. 30 years is a long time to wait. I’m so happy for them,” said Lott.
Michael Devaughn was arrested two years ago thanks to DNA evidence preserved at the crime scene, but Lott said today in court was still hard to believe.
“He said ‘you’ve got your guy.’ I had heard 50 or 60 no’s on DNA that I couldn’t accept the fact that I’d got him. Then my wheels… then I said ‘oh my gosh. You’re telling me that I’ve got him,” said Lott.
It was also very emotional for Julia Crigler-Holt, the granddaughter Kathryn Crigler, who was sexually assaulted by Devaughn and left for dead.
She said she just wanted the opportunity to look Devaughn in the eyes and deliver a message.
“I didn’t think that he would look at me, but I’m so glad. His eyes and my eyes were there the whole time. So I really think that he heard me. I hope he knows and maybe that’s something. I hope he heard me, that I forgive him,” said Crigler Holt.
Forgiveness– A sentiment that a few people at today’s hearing aren’t ready for, just yet.
“Just thinking about an 81 year-old granddmother having to be raped after her friend was just murdered… I don’t have that grace just yet.” said District Attorney Scott Colom.
Tuesday’s sentencing is the result of hard work, determination, and a vow to never give up.
“The night it happened, I vowed that I would never give up until something was done and this case was solved. My aunt was our family rock. She was a fun-loving, caring woman. We come from an extremely close-knit family and I wasn’t going to let anything go until we could have some sort of resolution,” said Tayor. “It’s been a great day. A great, great day.”
Starkville investigators used resources like ancestry.com and DNA science at Parabon Labs in Virginia and the Scales DNA lab in Jackson to find Devaughn.