LUMBERTON, NC (WMBF) – The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an internal affairs investigation in reference to a 2016 incident involving the suspect charged in connection with the death of 13-year-old Hania Aguilar.
Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt said deputies didn’t follow up after DNA evidence linked Michael Ray McLellan to a 2016 rape.
In October 2017, the North Carolina crime lab found a ‘hit’ in the federal database connecting McLellan’s DNA to a 2016 rape kit.
He said since McLellan had previous convictions his DNA was already in the system. When there’s a hit the lab notifies the DA’s office and the investigating agency. In this case, it was the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office.
Britt said somehow the evidence fell through the cracks.
“Nor do we know what happened when they received the disc that we sent as a backup. What we do know is there was no further investigation,” he said.
Britt said McLellan was arrested only after his DNA turned up inside the vehicle linked to Aguilar’s Nov. 5 kidnapping, the AP reported.
McLellan was charged over the weekend with 10 felonies, including first-degree murder, first-degree forcible rape and first-degree kidnapping.
Britt admitted that had a follow-up been made, Aguilar may still be alive
“Had we made an arrest, in all likelihood Mr. McLellan would have remained in jail because of his prior history and because of the severity of the charges and we would have avoided Hania’s death,” he said
Robeson County Sheriff Burnis Wilkins said the sheriff’s office was sent reports from the DA’s office that indicated McLellan was a suspect in the 2016 rape.
Those reports were sent in 2017, according to the sheriff.
“Apparently something slipped through the cracks and he (McLellan) was just charged with it in the last couple of weeks,” Wilkins said.
The sheriff has started an internal investigation to determine where the “failure in the system” was in regards to this incident.
“I’m not making any excuses on it,” Wilkins said. “There’s a failure in the system somewhere and I’m going to take care of it on our end.”
Britt said he broke the news to Aguilar’s mother Wednesday morning, apologized and ensured they are working with Wilkins to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“I can’t imagine receiving that kind of information as a parent," Britt said. “I needed to share this information with them so that they would understand what happened - we don’t know why it happened - and to try to build a further rapport with them."
Shelley Lynch, spokesperson for the FBI’s Charlotte division, said agents are not assisting with the 2016 rape investigation and it is solely a local matter.