A one-time suspect in the 1992 rape and murder of a 3-year-old child has been charged with the crime, more than a decade after another man was convicted in the shocking case.
Justin Albert Johnson, 51, faces charges of capital murder and sexual battery on a child under the age of 14, Attorney General Jim Hood said.
Johnson was arraigned Tuesday, pleaded not guilty and was being held without bond. It was not immediately clear if he had obtained an lawyer.
Another man, Kennedy Brewer had been convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1995 for the crime. He spent well over a decade in various prisons and jails, including death row.
The slaying of Christine Jackson was a "sickening case" in which the girl was taken from her home in the middle of the night, raped and brutally strangled, Hood said.
The child was the daughter of Brewer's girlfriend. She disappeared from their home on May 2, 1992, said Vanessa Potkin, a staff attorney with the New York-based Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that tries to free prisoners believed to be wrongly convicted.
Brewer, who was 22 at the time of the killing, was released on bond last year pending a new trial after his lawyer and the Innocence Project pushed for an appeal of his conviction based on DNA testing.
Sperm found on the child's body was analyzed by two different laboratories and both said the DNA was "a perfect match to Johnson," Potkin said.
Charges pending, investigation continues
The charges against Brewer are still pending. "If we find that he is fully exonerated, then we will move quickly to remove those charges," Hood said Thursday.
Johnson was a suspect early in the case and a blood sample was taken just days after the murder, Potkin said. It was sent to the Mississippi State Crime Laboratory, where it was preserved for more than a decade, she said.
"He was right there from the beginning," Potkin said.
But, she said, investigators quickly focused on Brewer because he was the only man in the house the night of the disappearance.
When asked Thursday if prosecutors still believe Brewer was involved, District Attorney Forrest Allgood said he needs to review the newest information before commenting.
In the meantime, Brewer's lawyers said he is trying to pick up where he left off.
"He's gainfully employed. He's working and he's living with his elderly, disabled mother, who he assists in taking care of," lawyer Carrie Jourdan said. "He has had no problems from a criminal legal standpoint" since his release.