“‘Forever 17”: ’20/20’ Reports on Tracie Hawlett & J.B. Beasley Homicides May 10 2024

The new episode of ABC’s 20/20, titled “Forever 17,” presents a compelling examination of a haunting case that unsettled the small town of Ozark, Alabama. Airing on May 10, 2024, this two-hour special delves into the brutal murder of Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley, two 17-year-old girls whose lives were tragically cut short in 1999. The program chronicles the journey from the discovery of their bodies to the eventual arrest and trial of Coley McCraney, offering a deep dive into a cold case that lingered unsolved for nearly two decades.

“Forever 17” provides not only a detailed recounting of the events and trial but also features exclusive interviews with a range of individuals connected to the case. These include family members of the victims, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, and supporters of McCraney. The episode highlights the significant emotional, legal, and community impacts this case has had over the years, showcasing the relentless pursuit of truth and justice in a saga that captivated the Wiregrass region for almost a quarter century.

The Night of the Murder

On the evening of July 31, 1999, Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley left for a party in southeastern Alabama but never returned home. The following day, their bodies were discovered in the trunk of Beasley’s black Mazda along a road in Ozark. Both girls had suffered gunshot wounds to the head. For years, the case remained a distressing mystery with few leads and no arrests, casting a shadow over the community and leaving the families of the young girls in agonizing uncertainty.

The narrative of that night began to unfold when police, inspired by the resolution of another cold case using genetic genealogy, decided to employ the same method. They utilized an online genealogy database to identify potential relatives of the suspect based on DNA found at the crime scene. This innovative approach led them to Coley McCraney, whose DNA matched that at the scene, culminating in his arrest in 2019.

Breakthrough and Arrest

The breakthrough in the case came in 2019 when Ozark Police Department collaborated with Parabon NanoLabs to apply genetic genealogy to the crime scene DNA. This new technique allowed them to trace the DNA to McCraney, a local preacher and truck driver with no prior criminal record. The revelation shocked the community, especially given McCraney’s well-regarded status in the community. His subsequent arrest brought a mixed response, with some residents supporting his innocence while others felt a step closer to finding justice for the slain girls.

McCraney’s trial revealed complex layers of the case, including his unexpected defense where he claimed to have had consensual sex with Beasley but denied any involvement in the murders. This claim introduced a controversial twist to the narrative, raising questions about the use of DNA evidence and its implications in solving crimes.

The Trial and Sentencing

During the trial, the prosecution presented DNA evidence as the cornerstone of their case against McCraney, while his defense questioned the integrity of the crime scene and the decades-old evidence. The jury ultimately found McCraney guilty of capital murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The decision was met with a mix of relief and sorrow. Relatives of Hawlett and Beasley expressed their enduring grief, emphasizing the irreplaceable loss of their daughters.

The sentencing did not bring closure but provided answers to questions that lingered for nearly 24 years. The verdict also sparked discussions on the ethical dimensions of genetic genealogy and its role in the criminal justice system.

Community Impact and Reflections

“Forever 17” captures the profound impact of the case on Ozark and the broader community. The episode reflects on how the murders and the subsequent trial have shaped community perceptions of justice and safety. Interviews with local residents, family members, and officials reveal a tapestry of grief, resilience, and hope for resolution.

The story of Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley is a poignant reminder of the vulnerabilities in small communities and the enduring pain that such tragedies inflict. It also highlights the evolving landscape of criminal investigation, where technological advancements like DNA genealogy are changing the ways crimes are solved, bringing both new possibilities and ethical challenges to the fore.

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Ryan Gill

Ryan is a passionate follower of true crime television programs, reporting on and providing in-depth investigations on mysteries in the criminal world.

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