Like most 17-year-olds, Salina McCoy was focused on fun, dating, cars, and hanging out with her friends. She was a bright and feisty student and a member of the local Police Explorers Program in Columbus, Mississippi. She had dreams of one day becoming a cop.
But on August 2, 2007, visions of a happy future vaporized. That’s the day McCoy left home and never returned. Her mother reported her daughter’s disappearance to law enforcement. As police searched for the missing girl, a man reported finding a body near railroad tracks on August 14.
The remains, which were badly decomposed and had been eaten by animals, were identified as McCoy’s. She had a scarf and a piece of rope wrapped around her neck. Her body was too decayed to determine if she had been sexually assaulted.
Local police investigated the murder from various angles, but it remains unsolved. On a recent episode of “Cold Justice,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Archiweekend, veteran prosecutor Kelly Siegler and investigator Steve Spingola travel to Columbus to dig into the case.
They assist Chief Fred Shelton, Capt. Rick Jones, and Sgt. Eric Lewis from the Columbus Police Department. Also on hand is Mayor Keith Gaskin, a reminder that McCoy’s murder weighs heavily on the entire Columbus community.
The Cold Justice team huddles with local law enforcement to review not just the circumstances surrounding the teen’s murder but the many rumors associated with the case.
“This is a tough case because there is still so much we just don’t know about the last night of Salina’s life,” says Siegler, “and there could be multiple suspects involved.”
The team hopes that with 14-years gone by, witnesses may be more willing to talk and suspects not directly involved in the crime may reveal useful information about others.
They’re also banking on touch DNA to aid their investigative efforts. “We sent the ligatures found on her neck off to the lab for DNA testing,” says Spingola. “We’re hoping for a break.”
After meeting with McCoy’s father, David Hudgins, Siegler and Chief Rick Jones are more committed than ever to bringing closure to his family. “She was friends with everyone, willing to help anybody,” Hudgins told them, adding that he made a promise to his daughter that he’d get her justice.
The team also walks away from the interview with a bit more clarity on the timeline of the case which impacts who potential witnesses are. The team’s initial belief that McCoy was killed in a hotel room and transported to the railroad tracks must be revised.
“This case might be even harder to solve than we thought,” says Siegler. “But we’re just getting started.”
Because McCoy was found with two ligatures around her neck – her own scarf and a length of rope – the team consults forensic pathologist Dr. Kathryn Pinneri. Accounting for decomposition and other available facts about the body, Pinneri says that she would classify the cause of death as ligature strangulation.
One question that arises is whether Pinneri believes that the use of two ligatures could indicate overkill, which could have some bearing on who murdered McCoy. The expert is more prone to believe that the first ligature didn’t work, so the killer used a second one to kill McCoy.
The team focuses on several suspects: Anthony “JR” Seals, the victim’s on-and-off boyfriend; JR’s cousin Josh Clark; and JR’s friends Deangelo Fisher and Michael Sparks.
When investigators speak with Clark, they are struck by his willingness to cooperate with them and his genuine concern about McCoy. Clark also has no useful information about Seals.
Interviews with witnesses, including Seals’ ex-girlfriends, reveal that he is allegedly prone to violence, verbal threats, and physical abuse.
After speaking with Sparks, Spingola gets no useful information but says he believes that Sparks knows more than he is sharing. The team also interviews Fisher, who is behind bars in a county jail. He confirms that Seals is violent, but says Seals never confessed to him.
Spingola interviews Seals, who admits getting rough with McCoy, including putting his arm around her neck. But, he staunchly denies having anything to do with her death.
“We have a case filled with rumors and hearsay,” says Siegler. “No one can give us a firsthand account of what happened … that’s admissible evidence.”
Investigators’ hopes that DNA evidence would turn the tide were dashed. No male DNA is detected on either of the ligatures wrapped around McCoy’s throat.
Although the team is able to cross some suspects off the list, they conclude that they don’t have enough evidence to convince prosecutors to file charges.
It’s a “devastating” turn of events, says Siegler. She takes solace in the fact that the Columbus Police Department is still on the case and continues to search for justice.
To learn more about this case, watch “Cold Justice,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Archiweekend. You’ll find more episodes here.
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