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By Elisha Fieldstadt
One investigator has been fired and another resigned after a North Carolina sheriff’s office investigated ignored DNA evidence that could have led to the imprisonment of an alleged murderer before he kidnapped and killed a 13-year-old girl.
Robeson County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Darryl McPhatter was terminated and Maj. Anthony Thompson resigned, according to a Thursday statement from the sheriff’s office.
The two investigators had been on paid leave during an investigation into DNA evidence that was overlooked in 2016 that could have linked Hania Aguilar’s suspected killer to a rape case.
Hania was taken from outside her Lumberton home on Nov. 5. After an extensive weeks-long search, her body was found in a lake on Nov. 27.
About a week later, Michael McLellan was charged with 10 felonies including first-degree murder and first-degree forcible rape in connection with Hania’s murder. He’s currently being held in jail without bond and could face the death penalty.
McLellan’s DNA was discovered in a rape kit from 2016 after a woman was assaulted by a man who removed her air conditioner and climbed into her window. His DNA was in the federal database after McLellan, 34, was convicted of felony assault with a deadly weapon and first-degree burglary in 2007.
The report on the match in 2016 was sent to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, but no one ever followed up to get a new sample from McLellan to confirm the match, then-Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt said in December.
“In all likelihood, had this gone forward and we would have established a case against him at that time, Hania would not have died,” Britt said.
McLellan was later jailed for a different crime, but not before he allegedly killed Hania.
In October, police said the suspect had tried to steal a woman’s car and money at gunpoint. He surrendered on Nov. 13. Aguilar disappeared on Nov. 5.
According to NBC affiliate WRAL, Britt said telling Hania’s mother that her daughter might be alive today if not for the oversight was “the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had to do.”