A retired corrections officer was arrested in the 1997 killing of a church youth counselor who was found dead in her Georgia bedroom, less than a mile from where the suspect still lived, officials said.
Jerry Lee Sr., 61, appeared in court Tuesday to ask for bond after being taken into custody in October in the death of Lorrie Ann Smith, who was 28 when she was murdered May 25, 1997.
Smith was shot several times in the back in the home she shared with her family on Stonewall Tell Road, authorities said.
Her father discovered her body when he went to her room to wake her for church, he told WSB-TV.
“She was in her blood on the floor,” he told the station. “I thought that was the end of me right there.”
Smith fought her attacker, who left behind a significant amount of blood at the scene, police said. Investigators searched for Smith’s killer to no avail for more than 21 years. Then this year, authorities utilized an ancestry website to match DNA found at the crime scene.
The genealogical testing found a familial match to the suspect, authorities said. Police said they identified Lee as the closest living relative in the area at the time of the killing, and they obtained a search warrant to collect the DNA of Lee, who was still living less than a mile away from Smith’s home, where her family still remains.
It was allegedly a match.
Police also searched his home, where they allegedly found a gun that matched the ballistics of the weapon used to kill Smith.
Lee was arrested at a hotel in Alabama, brought to Georgia and booked at the Fulton County Jail. He was charged with murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Lee’s arrest is the first police in Georgia have made as a result of matching DNA on an ancestry website.
Lee had no felony criminal record, officials said. In Georgia, only a convicted felon’s DNA is entered into the system.
Lee worked as a corrections officer in Atlanta for more than 20 years. His former coworkers, family and friends were in court Tuesday, where his attorney said he should be granted bail.
“What we’re here for now today is not for punishment but to determine, will this gentleman return to court?” defense attorney Fani Willis said, WSB-TV reported. “We believe that, between giving you the assurance of the ankle monitor, and his history in the community, that he will certainly return to court.”
Smith’s family was also present. Their parents now in their 80s, Smith’s brother and sister both asked for Lee to be kept in jail, WGCL-TV reported.
"Whoever killed my sister, they have been in hiding for 21 years and have not come forward,” said the victim’s brother, Jeffrey Smith. "They have had 21 years to walk free. I don't believe they should grant bond.”
Smith’s family also brought up the little distance between Lee’s home and their own as a reason to deny bond.
"His residence is within 60 seconds of my parents’ house," Smith's sister, Dana Bogensch, said through tears.
Smith was an MBA graduate from Georgia State University. She worked abroad, as well as a church youth counselor, and had recorded multiple Christian albums, WGCL-TV reported. And her death irreparably changed her family, they said.
“I am sorry for this man's family,” Bogensch told WGCL-TV. “The lord will forgive him. We can forgive him. But, there are crimes in this land that when you murder somebody, you need to go to jail."
The judge did not make his decision Tuesday, but instead said he will take several days to decide.
Attempts made by InsideEdition.com to reach Lee's attorney were unsuccessful.