DARLINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Darlington County's chief prosecutor is close to a final decision in the 14-year-old homicide case of what's been called the "I-20 Girl."
WIS started its investigation into the missing person's case-turned-homicide and released a special report on the findings three weeks ago. Now, Solicitor Will Rogers has finished reviewing the file for Michelle Haggadone's murder case – the woman Darlington County investigators found at a trucker's rest stop on Interstate 20 in August 2000.
It took 11 years before investigators were able to identify Haggadone or to name a suspect. But a warrant wasn't issued on that suspect until WIS started asking questions. The lead investigator on the case also resigned during WIS' investigation, and now, the solicitor has reopened the case.
Rogers tells WIS he is actively pursuing leads in the homicide case. Last week, investigators from South Carolina went to North Carolina to meet with officials there to compare notes from another murder case.
No murder charge
For 14 years, the I-20 Girl case file sat inside a file cabinet at the Darlington County Sheriff's Office. The man responsible for the case was sheriff's Capt. Andy Locklair, and he never got a murder warrant for the man he accused of killing the woman. The day after WIS interviewed Haggadone's mother, Locklair got the arrest warrant for accused killer John Wayne Boyer.
Locklair had promised to do that nearly three years ago.
When Locklair went to get the arrest warrant, he told the judge he got new information in the case.
"You were the new information," said Cathleen Applegate, Haggadone's mother. "You're the one who was the new information because they knew everything. They were covering up. I'm disappointed in their integrity."
Applegate thinks it is a "cover-up" for why it has taken more than two years to get an arrest warrant on Boyer.
"Somebody hadn't been truthful," she said. "Somebody was lying big time."
We have tried to contact Locklair since he resigned and have reached out to sources to find him, but as of this report, he has not responded.
We also reached out to Darlington County Sheriff Wayne Byrd for an explanation, but the sheriff hasn't returned a single message left by WIS despite multiple attempts for comment at his home and his office.
Applegate thought the man Darlington County investigators accused of murder in fact killed her daughter. The problem is there still isn't a murder warrant or an indictment inside the Darlington County courthouse. To this day, the Darlington County Sheriff's Office hasn't charged anyone with killing Haggadone.
"I just had a lot of faith in Andy Locklair," Applegate said. "No more. When that man resigned, I knew he had done extremely wrong, and I could just cringe."
Applegate said she's angry at how the investigation into her daughter's murder has proceeded.
"I'm very angry at those people," she said. "They're very lax about what they've done. Why did it take so long? Why didn't they do their job in the proper timeframe? Why did they do what they did?"
We went to Solicitor Will Rogers to find out what the hold up was in the prosecution. At that time, Rogers said he had never seen the Haggadone case file. But that changed after WIS' interview, and Rogers got the file and started reviewing it.
"Until we get all the evidence in, I can't give you a true evaluation on the strength of the case," Rogers said.
Applegate questioned officials in Darlington County and wonders why nothing was done to get to the bottom of the case before now.
"The officials have not done what they're supposed to," Applegate said. "Wouldn't he be curious to know what happened to the I-20 Girl? It was on TV a lot, and he never followed up on the next person in his line? Nothing has been done."
Rogers told WIS this wasn't the way they should handle murder cases.
The one bit of relief for Haggadone's family is they now know where she is and have a place to visit her. It's in a quiet cemetery 10 miles away from where she lost her life.
"Be honest to yourself. Do your job. Don't lie. Don't hurt anymore families," Applegate said.
Rogers said there is a lot of follow-up investigation needed in this case and that's happening right now.
A shaky confession
In 2011, Darlington County deputies said a trucker, John Wayne Boyer, confessed to the murder, but investigators never pressed charges in the I-20 Girl's case.
The first problem prosecutors admit they'll face if this case gets to trial is the confession the sheriff's office claims it got in 2011 does not match the facts from the crime scene. Another problem is investigators named a killer two years and eight months ago and never charged that man. The sheer lapse of time, prosecutors said, could make proving this beyond a reasonable doubt difficult.
Locklair claimed he got a confession from Boyer, who's serving time in a North Carolina prison on a murder plea in a separate case. The former captain told us Boyer admitted he picked Haggadone up and paid her for sex. The pair, according to Locklair, then got into an argument.
"It was a deal where she was going to turn him in to the police and say he'd raped her and wanted more money," Locklair previously told WIS. "She was trying to extort money from him is what he said. He said, 'I got mad and I killed her.'"
Investigators found Haggadone's body lying in the woods at an I-20 rest stop. The pathologist determined she'd been strangled and the murder weapon was still wrapped around her neck.
"I think somebody said it was like a 14-gauge wire that was actually – it was wire and a brassiere that was around her throat," Locklair previously said. "And it was tied around the neck."
It's how investigators say Boyer confessed to doing it that could pose a problem for prosecutors.
"I said, 'Why would your DNA be on this wire, which was what was used to strangle this person?' and he looked, sat back in his chair and he actually said, 'My DNA ain't on that wire because I strangled her with my shirt.' To one up me, he actually confessed to killing her," Locklair previously said.
Defense attorney Jack Swerling said that confession isn't enough to support a murder charge.
"If they go in and this is the basis of their case that they have a confession and they know it was done by a wire and he is admitting to the crime by saying it was done by a shirt," Swerling said, "I would argue that's reasonable doubt as to the veracity of the investigation and the statement itself."
Another problem is the time it took to get the murder warrant. Swerling thinks that's enough to show investigators didn't believe in their case.
"You had a confession three years ago, you did nothing with it," Swerling said. "You're now prosecuting the case, so if you had that information three years ago, why didn't you prosecute it then? Because you had a doubt. Because you had questions about whether or not this individual committed the murder or not or you would have prosecuted them early on."
Locklair previously told us aside from the confession, he has no other evidence to tie Boyer to the I-20 Girl's killing. Despite that, he told the public he was working on the murder warrant for Boyer.
"That police department didn't do their job," Applegate said. "I just can't imagine. I can't imagine Boyer getting away with this. I just can't."
WIS discovered a man that investigators haven't talked to in 14 years since Haggadone's body was found in the woods. That man is Jonathan Threatt. He worked with Boyer when investigators think Haggadone was murdered in 2000. Threatt tells a story that puts Haggadone and Boyer together hours before she lost her life.
"Right about where that black car is now, that's where she was at," Threatt said, as he stood on I-20.
In 2000, Threatt worked with Boyer at a trucking company near Wilmington, N.C. The men drove together in separate trucks hauling nails and fasteners to Texas.
"Whenever we got to this point in South Carolina – the 192-mile marker – I spotted a car broke down," Threatt told North Carolina investigators in 2011. "It was a little girl in a car and she was standing on the opposite side, and she was standing up against the guardrail right there."
That's when Threatt said he got on the CB radio to warn Boyer of the car and the girl.
"I said, 'Look, there's a car broke down here,' and when I looked back in the mirror, he was putting on brakes," Threatt said.
Threatt said he went on to Texas and Boyer stopped. The next day, Threatt said he saw Boyer again as he was making his delivery. Boyer, Threatt said, didn't look good.
"That morning he showed up and he was wanting to go ahead of me after I got there first, and I told him, 'No way, man. I got here first. I'm unloading first,'" Threatt said. "But he was all agitated and his forehead was sweating."
Threatt said he told that same story to a Brunswick County, N.C., investigator in 2011. Darlington County believed his story, going as far to say it would support a murder charge against Boyer.
"The corroborating information was from the fact that we had an eyewitness that used to drive trucks with Mr. Boyer," Locklair previously told WIS. "They were teaming up, going to Texas. His account of that particular time in Mr. Boyer's life was – they did stop in Dillon. He went on to Texas. Boyer stopped in Dillon, which supported some of that information."
Darlington County investigators never made that trip to get that testimony for their murder case, leaving it up to Brunswick County officials to get.
"We say to the family that the process is a lengthy time, and it just takes time to get through this process," Locklair said.
The chief prosecutor said he is sending investigators out to conduct new interviews in this case. Those investigators will go to Tennessee to meet with officials there to review another murder case Boyer is charged in. They are comparing notes and crime scene details between South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.
It is unknown if the I-20 Girl's case will go to trial and if anyone will be charged. The solicitor plans to make a decision on what happens with this case soon.
WIS will continue to follow this story and update it as information becomes available.