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Boyfriend's arrest cracks cold case, police say

By Rupa Mikkilineni, Nancy Grace Producer
Leah Freeman, 15, disappeared on June 28, 2000. Her body was found a month later on the outskirts of a neighboring town.
Leah Freeman, 15, disappeared on June 28, 2000. Her body was found a month later on the outskirts of a neighboring town.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Boyfriend arrested in 2000 slaying of Leah Freeman
  • One of Freeman's shoes found on street, the other miles away near her body
  • 15-year-old was walking on street after fight with best friend
  • In January a task force was formed to take another look at Freeman's slaying

New York (CNN) -- More than a decade after high school sophomore Leah Freeman vanished from the street near her home in Coquille, Oregon, police say they have found her killer.

A grand jury concluded it was her boyfriend, after police looked into the cold case a second time. More than 100 people testified before the grand jury, including the boyfriend's best friend, said Coquille Police Chief Mark Dannels.

Acting on the grand jury's indictment, police arrested the boyfriend, Nick McGuffin, on August 24 and charged him with murder.

Police have not disclosed details of what evidence led to his arrest, and McGuffin is being held on $2 million bail. McGuffin, who is now 28, is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.

McGuffin's attorney, Bob McCrea, has not commented. His office is still reviewing all the evidence presented to the grand jury.

In January, a cold case team of more than 20 members from several police jurisdictions was appointed to look into the case.

Certain witnesses, due to maturity and time, have been able to come forward.
--Mark Dannels, police chief

"We re-examined the evidence with newer technologies now available to us, and certain witnesses, due to maturity and time, have been able to come forward and provide more information about that night," Dannels said.

Leah, who was 15, was walking home from her best friend's house just as it was getting dark on June 28, 2000. She vanished, leaving one tennis shoe behind on the sidewalk, according to police and news accounts at the time.

A week after she disappeared, Leah's missing shoe was found along a dirt road on the outskirts of Fairview, a neighboring town just a few miles away. A month after that, Leah's body was found in the woods beyond the dirt road.

Leah had been living with her grandparents, older sister Denise and her mother, Cory Courtright, who was struggling to raise two daughters on her own.

Words cannot express how relieved I am.
--Cory Courtright, victim's mother
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"Words cannot express how relieved I am that they finally arrested Nick," Courtright said.

She recalled the last time she saw her daughter alive. Leah and McGuffin were washing his car and horsing around with a wet sponge. It was about 4 p.m., Courtright recalled, and her daughter seemed happy and carefree.

Leah and McGuffin left, and he dropped her off at the home of her best friend, Sherrie Mitchell. He was to return and pick her up at 9 p.m., Courtright said.

She said she later learned from the Mitchells and from police that the two friends had a spat because Sherrie's mother wouldn't let her go jogging with Leah after dark. Leah overheard the argument and then the two girls argued. Leah angrily left the Mitchell home before her boyfriend arrived to pick her up.

The Mitchells told Courtright that McGuffin came by at 9 p.m. to pick up Leah but left when she wasn't there. Courtright said McGuffin returned to the Mitchell home an hour later and called her, asking if Leah had come home.

Courtright reported her daughter missing the next morning. When police tracked McGuffin down, he was at the home of a friend, where they'd been partying the night before, Dannels said. The front porch was covered with empty beer cans and litter, Dannels said.

McGuffin told police he'd searched for his girlfriend the previous night but couldn't find her.

Police executed search warrants on the home of McGuffin's family and their vehicles. They discovered that the trunk of the car he drove had been recently gutted. His father told police there had been a fuel leak so the trunk liner, the spare tire, jack and tire iron had to be removed, Dannels told CNN in March.

Police also learned from neighbors that the family held a bonfire in their yard the day after Leah disappeared.

Forensic testing showed blood spatter on the bottom of the shoe found in Fairview. The sample matched Leah's blood, and experts determined a pattern consistent with medium- to high-velocity blood spatter, which can happen when an object -- a bullet or a car, for example -- hits a person while traveling at high speed.

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