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Robeson deputies suspended over actions in 2016 case linked to Hania Aguilar’s suspected killer

December 22, 2018
Maj. Anthony Thompson, left, and Sgt. Darryl McPhatter of the Robeson County Sheriff's Office

Two Robeson County deputies have been suspended with pay over their actions in a 2016 rape case now linked to the man charged with kidnapping and killing 13-year-old Hania Aguilar last month.

Maj. Anthony Thompson and Sgt. Darryl McPhatter will remain on suspension until an internal investigation by the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office into possible violations of department policy and procedures is finished.

Two years ago, a woman was sexually assaulted at knifepoint by a man who had removed a window air-conditioner to get inside a home.

The State Crime Lab later discovered that DNA from the rape kit in that case matched Michael Ray McLellan, 34, of Fairmont. His DNA had been submitted to a federal database after he was convicted in 2007 of felony assault with a deadly weapon and first-degree burglary.

Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt said recently that the DNA match should have prompted investigators to obtain a new DNA sample from McLellan to confirm the test, but no one followed up.

The report on the DNA match went straight to the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office in October 2016, Britt said, but he doesn’t know what happened to it after that.

“Unfortunately, there was a gap here of some kind,” he said. “I don’t know what a happened – if [the report] got lost at the sheriff’s department, if it got burried on somebody’s desk, if it got placed in a records division there. It just vanished.”

Thompson, now the chief jailer in Robeson County, previously served as chief of detectives, while McPhatter works in the Criminal Investigations Unit of the sheriff’s office.

McLellan was convicted of felony breaking and entering and motor vehicle larceny in February, but he was released in June with credit for time served.

In October, police said, he pointed a gun at a woman, tried to take her car and demanded money. He left without hurting her and surrendered to police on Nov. 13.

Eight days earlier, on Nov. 5, Hania was snatched from the front yard of her Lumberton mobile home after she went outside to wait for relatives to take her to school.

According to investigators, McLellan forced the teen into the family’s green SUV, which she had started, and fled the area. The vehicle was found within a few days, but Hania’s body wasn’t located until Nov. 27.

After the stolen SUV was found, authorities have said, investigators began connecting McLellan to the crime.

Not taking action on the DNA report two years ago may have cost Hania her life, Britt said.

“In all likelihood, had this gone forward and we would have established a case against [McLellan] at that time, Hania would not have died,” he said.

Both Britt and new Sheriff Burnis Wilkins said they are putting new procedures in place to make sure something similar doesn’t happen again.

McLellan remains in jail without bond and could face the death penalty. He is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree forcible rape, statutory rape of a person 15 or younger, first-degree sex offense, statutory sex offense with a person 15 or younger, first-degree kidnapping, larceny, restraint, abduction of a child and concealment of a death.

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