Police make arrest in killing of 10-year-old in 1984

DNA leads Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, NCIS cold case units to suspect

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has made an arrest in a 28-year-old cold case: the slaying of a 10-year-old girl at a Westside Jacksonville apartment complex in August 1984.

Sheriff John Rutherford announced Tuesday that modern DNA analysis led to the arrest of James Leon Jackson -- who was a next-door neighbor of victim Tammy Welch at the time -- on a charge of murder.

"After 28 years of Tammy Welch's murderer walking free, it was finally over," Rutherford said.

In court Wednesday morning, Jackson was ordered held without bond on charges of sexual battery and murder.

The girl, daughter of an active-duty sailor on deployment, had stayed home that day and was last seen playing with her sister in the courtyard of the Yorktown Apartment complex on 103rd Street. When the sister returned to the courtyard after going to get her mother, Tammy was dead on the ground.

ARCHIVE VIDEO: Girl killed August 27, 1984

An autopsy at the time found the girl was sexually assaulted and strangled, and despite extensive investigation at the time, the case remained unsolved.

Cold case units of the JSO and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service reopened the case in August 1999, re-interviewed everyone involved and took voluntary DNA samples.

While that investigation did not produced a suspect at the time, analysis of the DNA conducted late last year came up with a partial DNA profile matched that of Jackson.

Jackson was arrested in Jacksonville on Monday night by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement investigators on a drug charge, and he was charged Tuesday with murder.

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of James Jackson

Jackson (booking photo, left) denied at the time and again when arrested on Tuesday that he never knew or had any contact with the victim. He claimed he was asleep in his apartment at the time of the killing.

Thirty minutes after Jackson, 60, was arrested, NCIS informed the family, who now lives in Virginia. The father, who is now retired from the Navy, said they had always held out hope their daughter's killer would be caught.

"This doesn't bring the family closure, it just brings answers," JSO Chief Tom Hackney said.

State Attorney Angela Corey, who said she was a prosecutor at the time, says a federal grant enables investigators the resources to retest decades old DNA.

"I can't tell you the joy professionally it brings me to make this announcement -- that hard work and determination and the grant yielded such successful results," Corey said.

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