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Charges have been brought in the kidnapping and murder of a teenage college student on Christmas Eve 36 years ago, authorities say.
David Nelson Austin, 59, has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of first-degree murder, according to a press conference held by Chief T.K. Waters of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Austin is accused of kidnapping Leslie McCray, 17, at knifepoint on Dec. 24, 1985.
The news comes after family members reached out to cold case investigators on Florida’s Project Cold Case website in 2020, according to Waters. Investigators reexamined physical evidence collected from the original crime scene.
Citing a potential trial, Waters could not be specific as to what evidence investigators were examining.
“In April of 2020, an investigative lead was developed in reference to a potential suspect,” Waters said. “The DNA profile was matched to an inmate in the Michigan Corrections database.”
Austin is currently serving a life sentence in a Michigan state prison for three criminal charges, including two 1988 convictions of criminal sexual conduct, according to prison records.
Now, authorities are waiting to have Austin extradited from Michigan to Florida to face charges.
Leslie McCray was a student at the University of North Florida, according to her Project Cold Case profile. She had aspirations of one day becoming a model.
On Christmas Eve, 1985, at around 3:00 a.m., McCray’s 21-year-old boyfriend told authorities he woke to a man with short, brown hair kneeling by his bed, according to The Florida Times-Union. The suspect had a knife and tied him up with neckties.
The suspect took McCray to another room before leaving out the back door of the couple’s shared apartment.
The boyfriend called 911 after he freed himself from the restraints.
Three hours later, passersby found McCray’s nude body in a ditch on the side of the road.
McCray suffered from “severe wounds on her head and chest,” Sgt. Charley Hill told the Times-Union. “The scene was very bloody.”
Leads were few, and authorities suspended the investigation one year later.
“In 1985, evidence was collected at the scene by JSO homicide detectives,” Waters said at Thursday’s press conference. “And [the case was] later suspended in 1986 after no leads were developed from the evidence we collected at that scene.”
When asked at the press conference if Austin had ever been a suspect, Waters confirmed that “he was not.” Waters further confirmed that Austin was never interviewed or mentioned in any of the police reports.
“He did live in Jacksonville, yes,” Waters answered reporters. “He stayed here for a short period of time, and then he left the state. He committed his crimes in Michigan, where he was caught, and now he’s going to come back to Florida and face his crimes that he committed here.”
According to prison records, Austin was sentenced for his Michigan crimes in 1991.
McCray's cousin, Joey Bray, spoke to News4Jax after the announcement of an indictment.
“She was a kid, you know? She had her whole life in front of her, and she needed to live it,” said Joey, who stood beside authorities at the press conference while holding Leslie’s portrait. “But she wasn’t given the chance.”
The State’s Attorney’s Office is working with Michigan to bring Austin back to Florida.
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