Our Opinion: Sheriff, detectives never gave up on solving cold case

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THUMBS UP to the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office for solving a 3 ½-decade-old homicide thanks to advances in forensic technology, persistence and good, old-fashioned detective work.

Sheriff’s deputies charged Gregory Parks with first-degree rape and first-degree murder on Wednesday in the death of 13-year-old Marsha Anita Whitted. Authorities found Marsha’s nude body off Evansdale Road in rural Wilson County on Oct. 23, 1984. The girl had been raped and stabbed at least 62 times.

News of the brutal killing haunted the girl’s family and rattled nearby residents, but the trail ran cold. On the 35th anniversary of her body’s discovery, deputies accused a convicted killer and rapist in Marsha’s death.

Parks is serving a life sentence following a November 2017 murder conviction in Isabel “Chaveli” Palacios’ 2015 disappearance and death. His prior convictions include first-degree and second-degree rape.

Sheriff Calvin Woodard said detectives sent DNA to the state crime lab in 2012, but analysts weren’t able to identify a suspect. Woodard told Times reporter Olivia Neeley that his office resubmitted the evidence this March. With more sophisticated equipment and testing methods, forensic experts matched the DNA to Parks.

“It appears to show a pattern of a serial rapist,” Woodard said.

While Parks is presumed innocent until proven guilty in court, DNA is the gold standard for forensic evidence. If the crime lab’s match is indeed a match, a conviction is a near-certainty.

The resolution of cold-case homicides is a credit to law enforcement agencies that can bring closure to victims’ families, restore public faith in the criminal justice system and jolt perpetrators’ conscience by demonstrating that the long arm of the law can reach across decades to hold them accountable.

Sheriff Woodard and his detectives never gave up on finding Marsha’s killer. By all indications so far, their persistence has paid off.

THUMBS UP to BB&T, the Wilson-born bank that gave Barton College a big boost last week with a $2 million naming-rights sponsorship for its new athletic stadium and a $500,000 contribution for a workforce development partnership.

Barton will build a stadium around Electric Supply Co. Field, where the new Bulldogs football team will play its inaugural game next fall.

BB&T’s sponsorship will ensure the facility is state-of-the-art and enable Barton to make the capital investment necessary to bring the full college football experience to Wilson.

“The stadium will stand as a marker for the continued growth and excellence of this college and for the expanding opportunities for the young women and men at Barton as they prepare for leadership and service beyond graduation,” college President Doug Searcy said. “We anticipate construction for the stadium to begin in the weeks ahead.”

Bringing NCAA Division II football to Barton is a tremendous win for the college, a signature achievement for Searcy and his administration and a feather in Wilson’s cap.

Barton will likely see increased enrollment, more school spirit and more interaction with recent alumni who still call eastern North Carolina home. For the city of Wilson, it’s a boon to tourism efforts and a way to bring the community together to cheer for our hometown team.

Barton needed support, and Wilson’s homegrown — and still growing — bank was eager to invest in its community and lend a hand.

In February, BB&T announced a $66 billion merger of equals with Atlanta-based SunTrust to create the nation’s sixth-largest bank. In June, the partners chose Truist as the new megabank’s name. The current BB&T is building a new $35 million office in downtown Wilson to replace its familiar glass towers, a signal that Truist will retain a strong presence here long after the merger is complete.

Alpheus Branch and Thomas Jefferson Hadley founded the Branch and Hadley merchant bank here in Wilson in 1872. In 1887, Branch purchased his partner’s interest in the company and changed the name to Branch & Co., Bankers. The firm eventually became Branch Banking & Trust Co., and Wilson remained its home base until a 1995 merger with Southern National moved the headquarters to Winston-Salem.

BB&T has a long history of supporting Wilson institutions, including Barton College. It established the BB&T Center for Free Enterprise Education at Barton in 2008. The workforce development partnership announced last week has the makings of a similar long-term success.

We applaud BB&T for pitching in to help Barton reach the endzone on a gleaming new stadium. Go Bulldogs!