ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. (WNCN) – The Robeson County district attorney is now saying important evidence investigators missed could’ve saved 13-year-old Hania Aguilar.
The FBI says she was kidnapped Nov. 5 in Lumberton, then raped and killed.
Michael McLellan, 34, was charged Dec. 8 with 10 felonies in connection with Aguilar’s kidnapping and death.
District Attorney Johnson Britt said McLellan was a possible rape suspect a year ago.
The state crime lab named McLellan as a possible DNA match tied to a rape in 2016. They put the information in a report sent to the sheriff’s office in 2017, but McLellan was neither arrested nor charged back then.
“We were actually meeting with Hania’s mother and her stepfather to explain to them what had happened to express my regret and our regret that this had been missed, and likelihood (that) had this gone forward and had we established a case against him, at that time, Hania would not have died. I can’t tell you how much that hurts. I can’t tell you how sorry I am,” Britt said.
Britt said McLellan could’ve been behind bars for life if investigators moved forward and if he was convicted of that 2016 rape, but that never happened.
“I don’t know if it got lost at the sheriff’s department, if it got buried on somebody’s desk, if it got placed in the records division there and just vanished,” Britt said.
According to the state crime lab website, police should have asked for a warrant to collect a sample of McLellan’s DNA to confirm it was his. His fingerprints should have been verified along with his criminal history. The state crime lab is supposed to notify the law enforcement agency working the investigation, which didn’t happen.
But, according to Britt, no one acted.
Instead, in 2018, the lab matched McLellan’s DNA to Aguilar, and he was charged with her rape and murder.
The district attorney and the new sheriff said they’re launching an internal investigation to find what went wrong to keep it from happening again.