ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - The Fulton County District Attorney’s office said its one closer to finding who killed 14-year-old Nacole Smith – but identifying that man could take years.
Nacole was brutally raped and murdered 25 years ago, as she walked to school in Southwest Atlanta.
With evidence so close to bringing Nacole’s family justice, CSI Atlanta spoke exclusively with renowned investigator Paul Holes.
Holes is known nationally for his work that helped lead to the capture and arrest of the Golden State Killer, who terrorized Californians for more than a decade.
"We for a long time felt that we were just getting nowhere in this case, and then something happened," said Fulton County District attorney Paul Howard recently to CSI Atlanta.
Howard told CSI Atlanta through DNA testing, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has found a link.
"We did not get a direct identification of the DNA. We did not get a first-generation identification, but what we were able to get is a second cousin twice removed,” he said.
Howard said the bad news is that processing that DNA match could take several years.
"That it is going to be a painstaking process, it might be thousands of interviews we just don't know at this time," he said.
And, the DNA sample is running out.
"We have to preserve a small amount so that when someone is apprehended, that we are able to compare that person's DNA with the DNA that is available to the Georgia crime lab,” Howard said.
Holes said the DA’s office should step up its search to include all available DNA databases, including Family Tree DNA.
“You don’t have to do any more DNA testing, you just need to be getting more searches,” said Holes. “My first question would be, ‘what databases have been searched?’ and if they haven’t searched like Family Tree DNA, then get that profile to Family Tree DNA if they can."
“The more databases they’ve searched, the more potential relatives that can be found. It’s not just a dead match," he said.
Holes also suggested the DA’s office and CSI Atlanta meet with the GBI to discuss other options - including retesting evidence like shell casings and clothing.
"Don't just restrict yourself to DNA. They can do prints off the modifications in this day-and-age," he said. "It's really prioritizing what you think are the high priority items and then determining whether or not GBI is the appropriate lab to send evidence too.”
In 1995, Nacole's attacker shot her twice in the face in a wooded area less than a mile from her home.
The straight-A student, and her older sister were walking to school when Nacole realized she'd left a homework assignment at home.
She cut through a nearby wooded path alone to retrieve that assignment.
Nacole's mom, Acqunellia SMith told CSI Atlanta, she heard the gunshots from her apartment.
“All I know is 9:20 a.m. I heard the gunshots. I never thought it was my child it happened to,” Smith said.
DNA from the 2004 rape of a 13-year-old East Point girl – also pulled into the woods but survived – helped link both cases.
CSI Atlanta also aged a 16-year-old sketch of the suspect based on that victim's recollection of the man.
Holes said Howard and the GBI should also consider using a private lab to retest items using state-of-the-art technology.
“In my experience, state level laboratories can have some very, very good qualified individuals but they won't get to your case for years - everybody in the state is sending them evidence,” said Holes. "It's assessing utilizing a private lab that has the appropriate technologies that you need for the type of evidence you have. The private laboratories of course, are going to cost you money."