State Attorney Jeff Ashton on Wednesday announced the first-degree murder indictment of man in what had been considered a cold case homicide.
Dwight David Berch, 54, has been formally charged in the strangulation death of 25-year-old Tina Maria Lawson. In 2002, a construction worker found Lawson's body on the road near what is now the Errol Estates. The development was under construction then. Little did anyone know at the time that the prime suspect would turn out to be a trucker working nearby.
Investigators tell FOX 35 that they contacted both Lawson's biological mother and her foster parents.
"It was kind of a shock," said Lawson's foster mom Eloise Wright. "She was a lovely girl. She loved to play."
Eloise had fostered Tina like her own daughter for four years. By the time she heard the awful news, Tina had moved out and moved on. According to Eloise, she had two children, never married and lived estranged from her biological parents.
When investigators finally got their break, they called the Wrights, and it was the news the couple had prayed for.
"I do believe if you do something like that, you have to pay for it," said Lawson's foster dad Willis Wright. "It ought to be a way they pay for it, especially take a life."
A grand jury indicted Berch for the first-degree murder of Lawson -- an indictment that comes only because of his recent 2010 arrest in Lake County for aggravated assault with a weapon.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Ashton said, "He did not become a suspect until his DNA ended up in the database."
After that arrest, Berch went into prison where he has been ever since, and his DNA went into the national DNA database and was matched with Tina's.
It was a big day for investigators and for the parents who just want closure for the girl they considered their own.
"We prayed for her, hoping she would come back. We were hoping we could meet the kids, but she never did," Eloise said.
ApopkA Police Chief Robert Manley, part of the Joint Investigation Homicide Task Force that found Berch, said they were under the gun because Berch was actually scheduled to be released from prison in six days, and they wanted the indictment and the arrest warrant before he got out.
Investigators plan to serve him over the next few days. He will then be arraigned, and presumably, the case will then go to trial.