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Authorities have arrested a suspect in the 1988 murder of an 8-year-old boy thanks to advancements in DNA science.
James Michael Coates, 56, was arrested on Wednesday and booked on several felony charges related to the murder of Joshua Harmon, according to a Roswell Police Department press release.
James Michael Coates faces a raft of charges, including murder, aggravated assault, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, enticing a child for indecent purposes, false imprisonment, cruelty to children, concealing the death of another, and tampering with evidence.
“To the Harmon family, this is a tragedy that no family should endure,” Police Chief James Conroy said at a news conference announcing the arrest. “The death of Joshua and the fact that his killer remained free for such a long time is unimaginable.”
According to a spokesperson for the Roswell Police Department, investigators, including some from the Georgia State Bureau of Investigation, had Joshua’s body exhumed last February “in hopes of identifying further evidence.”
The results of the DNA testing allegedly linked Coates to the crime.
On May 15, 1988, Joshua’s parents reported him missing when he didn’t come home for dinner at the Raintree Way apartment complex, where he lived. Forty-eight hours later, searchers found Joshua’s body in a wooded area where he played in a fort and searched for turtles.
The young boy was beaten and strangled, according to 11 Alive. Someone attempted to conceal his body with loose dirt and pine straw beneath logs.
Despite many appeals and reexaminations over the years, the case went cold.
“Josh was an amazing young boy who had an uncanny relationship with nature and with God, so I know where he is, and I know he’s at peace,” Joshua’s aunt, Marlene Carlisle, said at the news conference.
Carlisle is the sister of Joshua’s mother, Cherie Carlisle Harmon, who died in October at the age of 65.
“We wish Cherie could be here, but we also feel that she and Josh high-fived and said, ‘We gonna help and we’re gonna get everybody through this,’” continued Carlisle.
Conroy would not specify how they believe Coates kidnapped or lured Joshua to his death so as not to “jeopardize the prosecution of this case.”
Lt. Jason Wescott, however, did elaborate that Coates shared a link with the Harmons.
“The [Harmon] family did live in the same apartment complex at the time,” said Wescott. “They may not have actually known his name but kind of knew who he was.”
Coates of Woodstock, Georgia, had since been arrested for other crimes against children in 1993 and placed on the state bureau’s sex offender registry, according to records. The charges included child molestation, enticing a child for indecent purposes, and the false imprisonment of a minor.
Coates served 20 years in prison, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and had also been convicted of child molestation back in 1990.
The Roswell Police Department said they arrested Coates during a traffic stop.
“When we arrested him, he was the passenger of an Uber,” said Conroy. “And we had arrest warrants prior to that traffic stop.”
Police are still investigating the case and are looking at the possibility that Coates had other victims.
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Roswell Police Department.
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