Troy McWhorter was scheduled to be released from prison next month after serving time for theft, but now he faces murder charges in a 2004 case brought by the Harris County Sheriff's Office cold-case squad.
HCSO investigators say McWhorter's DNA matches that found on the abandoned body of Shonda Alexander, 36, an Army vet who "helped raise six children."
Alexander's body was discovered in July 2004 in northwest Harris County. Investigators say she had fallen on hard times after leaving the armed services.
McWhorter had not been among the original suspects in the initial investigation of Alexander's murder. But after the DNA match, the investigators found that McWhorter had lived in the neighborhood where Alexander and other prostitutes were frequently seen.
Alexander, after an honorable discharge from the Army, had separated from her husband and become addicted to crack cocaine, the investigators said.
McWhorter was doing time in Edinburg for violating probation after stealing truck equipment; as part of the standard procedure in such circumstances, a DNA test was taken and matched up with outstanding cases. It got a hit with the Alexander case.
HCSO says the new charge could include the death penalty, but capital murder trials have become the exception and not the norm in Harris County these days.
Among those on the case: investigator sergeants Bobby Minchew and Eric Clegg and research assistant Rebecca Sweetman.
"Why there was not an active Cold Case Unit before, I have no idea. But (on taking office) I considered it a total disrespect to the surviving victims in these murders," Sheriff Adrian Garcia said. "I am proud of these crime-fighters who have been working tirelessly to help bring closure to the extent that we can to these families and the memories of the victims."
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HCSO's cold-case unit has brought 15 murder charges against 13 defendants since being reinstated by Garcia shortly after he took office in January 2009.
Minchew called Alexander's family with the news that the case had been solved.
"There's no better feeling in law enforcement that I think of," Minchew said of making such a phone call. "Maybe they can sleep better at night."