MARIETTA, Ga. – A neighbor, who admitted to raping and killing a mother and her 13-year-old daughter in 1986, was sentenced to two life sentences.
Ronald Lee Kyles, now 63, pleaded guilty on Friday ahead of his Oct. 15 scheduled trial.
On Sept. 12, 1986, Sharon Brady, 40, and Samantha, 13, were found dead in their apartment at 132 Cole St., in Marietta, Ga., two doors down from his apartment. Sharon’s youngest daughter, a toddler, was also in the apartment but was unharmed.
The case went cold and remained unsolved for three decades—until some dogged detectives got their hands on it.
In 2013, Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds formed a Cold Case Unit within his office and invited local law enforcement agencies to participate in a review of unsolved murders and sex crimes. A grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 paid for testing of forensic evidence preserved in cases like this one.
“Once we received that case in office, we went through the crime scene photos first and it was sickening. It was a case that we were driven to find some result,” John Dawes, lead detective and director of the Cobb County Cold Case Unit, said.
Dawes reached out to Wayne Kennedy, the now-retired Marietta detective who first investigated the case in the '80s.
“It still bothered him. You could see it in his eyes—the frustration of the case to this day was... just frustrating beyond imagination. And we could identify with that because we were looking at the same thing he saw back on the day of the crime,” Dawes said.
In 2015, Dawes and his team went to the crime lab and obtained 20 pieces of evidence that was still available, including blood samples and the original rape kits. He sent those samples to a lab in Utah.
Ten days later, they had a match.
“The DNA results were overwhelming—one in 1.3 trillion that it might have been somebody else... it was crazy exciting,” the cold case detective gushed.
At the time of his arrest, Kyles, then-62, was serving a 10-year sentence in Pennsylvania on an unrelated aggravated assault.
Dawes traveled to Pennsylvania, where Kyles was in prison for a stabbing conviction.
Kyles fought extradition but was returned to Georgia in May 2017 after Gov. Nathan Deal and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive agreement.
“He looked at my jacket that said, ‘Cold Case Unit,’ and he knew,” Dawes said with a smile brimming with satisfaction. “They know when you come to see them from the Cold Case Unit, that you found them.”
Justice 32 years in the making
Brandi Stone, Sharon’s surviving daughter and Samantha’s sister, who was 3 years old at the time her family was murdered, made a statement to the court Friday, Oct. 5.
“As a mere 3-year-old, I came face to face with pure evil,” she said.
Tiffanie Zabriskie, who was friends with Samantha, also spoke to the court, calling Kyles “a heartless monster.”
“God wants us to forgive; I’m a work in progress,” Zabriskie said.
After accepting the plea, Cobb Superior Court Judge Reuben Green sentenced Kyles to two life sentences, to be served after he completes his sentence in Pennsylvania.
To date, seven people have been charged with Cobb County crimes, following the Cold Case Unit’s assistance, including six murder suspects—many credited to new DNA matches through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
“Technology itself, science itself, lab machinery, lab personnel, the training and the technology has become so advanced—and then when you combine it with an index of convicted felons, we're able to get hits a lot more frequently than in the past,” Dawes said.
“So, if we're looking at a case from 25 years ago where you left your DNA, we are going to find you.”
Anyone with information about any unsolved murder or sex crime in Cobb County can provide information anonymously, at (770) 528-3032.