Arrest made in 21-year-old cold case murder after police use ancestry websites

Murder suspect Jerry lee, left, is accused of killing Lorrie Ann Smith in 1997 in a case that's been cold for 21 years. Lee was caught when authorities used ancestry websites to track the DNA they had collected at the crime scene.
Caption
Murder suspect Jerry lee, left, is accused of killing Lorrie Ann Smith in 1997 in a case that's been cold for 21 years. Lee was caught when authorities used ancestry websites to track the DNA they had collected at the crime scene.

Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office/ Family photo via WSB-TV

Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office/ Family photo via WSB-TV

Fulton County police have made an arrest in a 21-year-old homicide case, officials announced Thursday.

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Fulton County police Chief Darryl Halbert said suspect Jerry Lee, 61, was arrested this week in the 1997 murder of Lorrie Ann Smith, 28. Smith was shot to death in her home in South Fulton County on May 25, 1997.

South Fulton County police said they were able to use ancestry websites to finally solve the case.

Smith was shot in the back in her own bedroom at a home on Stonewall Tell Road. Police said there was no sign of forced entry, sexual assault or robbery.

It was clear Smith fought for her life. Police found a "significant amount" of the suspect's blood at the scene, but without modern DNA testing were not able to make a match in the state database.

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That's where Ancestry.com came in to play. Investigators took DNA they collected from the crime scene and sent it to a DNA testing company called Parabon, which found a similar strand of DNA in their system from someone who was trying to uncover their family tree.

They connected the DNA to one of Lee's relatives.

Police got a warrant to get Lee's DNA and traveled to his home in Alabama to collect it.

He was arrested after a match was made this week and brought to Georgia.

"Despite a reward of more than $30,000 and DNA tests conducted on more than 100 individuals over the last 21 years, Police had been unable to positively identify the suspect until this week," Fulton County police officials said in a statement.

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Smith worked in marketing and was a youth counselor at Union Christian Church in College Park.

Smith's father said in 2017 interview that he hoped new technology could help police catch his daughter's killer.

James Smith said he found his daughter's body when he went to wake her up for church.

“I opened the door and there she was in her blood on the floor. I thought that was the end of me right there,” James Smith said.

Smith said last year he just wants closure in his daughter's death.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about her," Smith said.

The family issued a statement about the arrest. It reads, in part:

"We have some relief. One chapter has closed, but there are new ones opening with trials, sentencing and all that we will be learning about the next phase of the process."

Police said Lee was 40 years old at the time of the murder and worked at a Georgia jail. It is unclear whether Lee had a connection to Smith or if the murder was random.

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"It feels wonderful to finally bring some kind of closure to this family," Lt. Twanesa Howard with the Fulton County Police Department said.