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Investigators Use DNA To Solve 1979 Cold Case Murder Of 12-Year-Old Girl In Texas

Investigators say Gerald Dewight Casey, who was executed for another murder in 2002, murdered 12-year-old Lesia Mitchell Jackson.

By Gina Tron
Police handouts of Lesia Jackson and Gerald Casey

After more than four decades, investigators in Texas say they have determined who took the life of an innocent child. 

Lesia Mitchell Jackson, 12, vanished from her neighborhood on Sept. 7, 1979 after spending the day at a community pool, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department stated in a press release.

An oilfield worker found her body in a heavily wooded area near a pipeline in Montgomery County on Sept. 13. An autopsy report revealed that she had been sexually assaulted and then murdered.

Detectives "began an extensive investigation into her death that lasted for years and, while all leads were explored, the case eventually became cold,” the press release states.

But the leads turned hot again last year, police say, thanks to a new technology called “M-Vac.” It’s a “wet-vacuum based forensic DNA collection device,” according to a website dedicated to the technology. One study, conducted by the FBI in 2020, has shown that it collects more DNA than swabbing, particularly when the DNA is located on difficult, porous surfaces.

MCSO’s Cold Case Homicide Squad, which took over the case in 2005, utilized this technology in October to successfully extract unknown DNA from Jackson’s clothing, collected at the crime scene. From there, the unknown DNA was sent to Texas DPS Forensic Scientists, who were able to develop a DNA profile of her killer.

Investigators submitted the profile FBI's Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS, which determined it matched with a man named Gerald Dewight Casey.  

Casey was executed in 2002 for for capital murder, for a crime he committed in Montgomery County in 1989. 

Casey, then 34, and his accomplice, 36-year-old Carla Smith, tried to steal guns from a man named Daryl Pennington in 1989, KHOU reports. When they arrived at his home, they instead found his roommate Sonya Lynn Howell, who Casey beat with a home telephone and shot nine times before dumping her body in a wooded area. Casey was convicted of Howell's murder in 1991; Smith testified against him. 

Before Howell's murder, Casey had been in and out of prison for multiple convictions, including burglary and multiple drug charges.

MCSO notes in their press release that this marks the oldest cold case solved by their department to date.

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