HANCEVILLE — Hanceville police believe they have solved a two month-old church desecration case in the Center Hill community — one that left residents resorting to terms like ‘hate crime’ to describe an intensely anti-Christian vandalism case that left members of a small Baptist church with a lot of unanswered questions.
The answers to those questions are coming with the help of some sophisticated sleuthing — the kind normally reserved for murder and rape cases — via a collaboration between the Hanceville police department and the state forensics lab.
Thanks to DNA evidence cultivated through the investigative work of Hanceville Sgt. Scott McDonald and the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, officers have charged 21 year-old Tyler Ephesians Boyd of Center Hill with one count each of second-degree arson and second-degree burglary in the Feb. 3 vandalism case. Boyd was 20 years old at the time the incident occurred.
Hanceville officers Pete Contreras and Kristen Summers arrested Boyd early Monday morning without incident at the home he shares with his grandparents on County Road 747. Police are currently treating the investigation as a one-suspect crime, and did not speculate on whether Boyd could later face additional charges.
Officers allege Boyd broke into the Center Hill Baptist Baptist Church sometime in the late hours between Feb. 2 and Feb. 3. When church members discovered the vandalism on the following day, they found a few missing items, a lot of destruction, and some overt messages of the sort that indicate the vandal clearly had the devil on his mind.
The perpetrator had torn a cross off the wall, burned a Christian-themed flag, carved messages and written ‘Hail Satan’ where the cross once had stood. Two TVs, a DVD player and two computers had been taken. A stained glass window had been damaged by a shotgun blast. A large antique Bible had been torn up; at least one of its pages had been ripped out and — in what may have been the suspect’s undoing — spat upon.
Given a sufficient sample size, there’s assessable DNA material in human saliva. That material carries a more unique set of individual identifying characteristics than does a fingerprint. But, like a fingerprint, it won’t tell law enforcement to whom the material belongs. That job falls to police investigators who must develop probable cause as they identify potential suspects.
McDonald said a number of almost serendipitous events — including a chance encounter with Boyd at a gas station; his alleged inclination to unsolicitedly profess a strong interest in atheism in subsequent conversations with police; the presence of some potentially incriminating items in the suspect’s home, both during Boyd’s period of voluntary cooperation with police, as well as after McDonald obtained a mid-February search warrant — led police to believe Boyd was the source of the saliva left at the scene.
“I had [DNA sample] swabs from the scene, where somebody had spat on the Bible,” said McDonald. “I had obtained a search warrant, and I went to the [suspect’s] house and took an oral swab of Mr. Boyd, and sent that to the lab along with the swabs I had taken from the scene.
“On April 12, I received confirmation from the department of forensic sciences in Birmingham that the source of genetic traits detected in the items submitted was that of Tyler Ephesians Boyd.”
According to the lab report, the probability that a white suspect with a genetic ‘fingerprint’ identical to that of Boyd’s sample — as well as the sample collected from the Bible at the scene — are one in 835 quadrillion. While the odds diminish significantly when matched against black suspects, they’re still astronomically high: one in 4.33 quadrillion.
Read more on this developing story in Tuesday’s edition of The Cullman Times, and continue checking www.cullmantimes.com for updates as they become available throughout the day.
* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.