Armed with new DNA evidence obtained from a previously untested 6-year-old beer can, Baton Rouge police cold-case detectives arrested a man Tuesday in the April 2008 shooting death of 55-year-old Willie Mitchell.
Theodis Guillory, 1407 N. 37th St., Baton Rouge, was booked into Parish Prison on one count of second-degree murder, said Cpl. Don Coppola, a police spokesman.
Police did not have to look far to find Guillory.
He was already in Parish Prison awaiting trial for a June 2011 attempted second-degree murder — a case in which he was accused of beating a 51-year-old man with a board, stabbing him, shooting him twice, then setting him on fire.
Guillory has not admitted to shooting Mitchell, 4131 Odell St., Cold-case Detective John Dauthier said. The detective wouldn’t say if Guillory was cooperating with detectives.
Police do not think Mitchell and Guillory knew each other before the incident.
For detectives investigating Mitchell’s death, the realization that the can had not been tested for DNA offered a sliver of hope to link the can to Mitchell’s killer.
“The break in the story was the beer can,” Dauthier said.
Lt. J.B. Slaton, a State Police spokesman, said analysts at the State Police Crime Lab never tested the can for DNA in 2008 because paperwork submitted by police was incomplete.
Dauthier said Mitchell pulled his truck over to the side of North 37th Street shortly after 7 p.m. on April 25, 2008, to change a CD in his stereo system.
That angered Guillory, who lived nearby and was upset that Mitchell pulled over in front of his house.
The two got into a verbal altercation, and at some point Guillory walked into his home, grabbed a beer can and threw it at Mitchell, Dauthier said.
After throwing the can, Guillory walked back inside, grabbed a handgun, walked back out and fired several shots at Mitchell, Dauthier said.
Mitchell’s girlfriend witnessed the shooting and while she could not identify the shooter, she told police about the incident with the beer can, showing where it landed inside the truck.
“From what she described, we realized the beer can was a significant piece of evidence,” Dauthier said.
The cold case was the final one solved with the help of a National Institute of Justice grant awarded to State Police in 2011. State Police divided the money among local agencies in 2011, Dauthier said.
The grant was scheduled to end in December 2012, but because Baton Rouge police detectives were making good headway with unsolved cases, State Police took funds from other agencies that were not using the money and gave it to Baton Rouge police until the coffers ran dry on March 31.
The grant covered overtime police needed to review cold cases to look for details that may have been overlooked and for DNA evidence that was never tested.
Detectives reviewed about 350 cases and requested tests be run on about 40 to 50 cases, Dauthier said. They got hits on a few cases, including Mitchell’s death.
Coincidentally, Dauthier said, March 31 was the date the test results came back linking Guillory to the beer can.