Hania Aguilar, the 13-year-old raped and murdered after she was kidnapped from outside her North Carolina home, might’ve been saved had authorities not overlooked DNA evidence tying her suspected killer to an earlier rape. It was “maybe the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had with a victim‘s family, to tell them that had this information been followed up on, her daughter might be alive,” Robeson County DA Luther Johnson Britt said Wednesday, per CNN, alleging deputies failed to act on evidence tying 34-year-old Michael Ray McLellan to a 2016 assault. In October 2017, the state crime lab found McLellan’s DNA, perhaps submitted to the federal database after 2007 convictions for felony assault with a deadly weapon and first-degree burglary, matched a case in which a woman said a man crawled through her window and assaulted her at knifepoint, reports WRAL.
While the evidence was rediscovered last week, Britt says both the sheriff’s office and district attorney’s office were notified in 2017 but failed to obtain confirmation in the form of a new DNA sample—even after McLellan’s February 2018 convictions for breaking and entering and motor vehicle larceny. Released from custody in June, McLellan surrendered to police on Nov. 13, more than a week after Hania’s abduction, to face charges that he pointed a gun at a woman in October. He was then handed 10 felony charges stemming from Hania’s murder and the 2016 rape. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am,” Britt tells WNCN, speculating about whether the evidence “got buried on somebody’s desk.” Sheriff Burnis Wilkins, on the job for just 10 days, says an internal probe has been launched. “Once we determine what occurred, the citizens will be made aware,” he says. (More on the case here.)