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Man charged with 1st-degree murder in 1985 killing of Jacksonville teen

Leslie McCray, 17, was kidnapped from her St. Johns Avenue apartment and found dead hours later

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A man was indicted Thursday in the 1985 murder of a Jacksonville teenager, authorities said.

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Chief of Investigations T.K. Waters announced at a news conference Thursday afternoon that a Duval County grand jury indicted David Nelson Austin on a charge of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Leslie McCray.

In the early morning hours of Christmas Eve 1985, McCray, a 17-year-old college student, was kidnapped at knifepoint from her home on St. Johns Avenue. Police said a stranger entered the apartment and tied up McCray and her boyfriend. McCray was last seen being taken off against her will.

After freeing himself, McCray’s boyfriend called police, and a search began. Hours later, she was found dead on Old Middleburg Road.

“She was a kid, you know? She had her whole life ahead of her and she needed to live it, but she wasn’t given the chance,” said Joey Bray, a cousin of McCray.

In 2019, McCray’s family reached out to the Jacksonville-based group, Project: Cold Case, and the JSO Cold Case Unit to request a reexamination of the evidence using new forensic technology.

According to Waters, DNA led investigators to Michigan, where Austin has been behind bars since 1991, serving a life sentence for convictions in sexual assault cases there.

“In April 2020, an investigative lead was developed to a reference to a potential suspect’s DNA. A DNA profile was matched to an inmate in the Michigan corrections database,” Waters said.

Waters said more tests were conducted to confirm Austin as the suspect in McCray’s death. A warrant was issued, charging Austin with second-degree murder, before he was indicted Thursday afternoon on the first-degree murder charge. The State Attorney’s Office said Austin is also charged with two counts of armed kidnapping and one count of armed sexual battery.

McCray’s family said they’re relieved they’re finally getting answers more than three decades after her death,

“I always have that question in the back of your mind -- what happened to her, why. I wanted justice for her,” Bray said. “I’m just glad we know. We have answers.”

The DNA evidence was developed thanks to a grant to the JSO Cold Case Unit from the U.S. Justice Department.

The State Attorney’s Office said it’s working to extradite Austin to Florida.

David Nelson Austin (Michigan Department of Corrections)

About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.