DECATUR, Ala. — Alabama Detective Sean Mukaddam was skeptical of what the man on the phone was telling him. After all, it’s not every day that someone calls to confess to a murder.
“You’re always leery,” Mukaddam, a violent crimes detective for the Decatur Police Department, told AL.com. “I thought it might be a prank call. But it quickly developed that this was the real deal.”
The caller, Johnny Dwight Whited, 53, of Trinity, was charged Wednesday with murder in the 1995 killing of Christopher Alvin Dailey, 26, of Huntsville. According to Morgan County Jail records, Whited is being held in lieu of bail set at $15,000.
Authorities said that Decatur officers were called April 26, 1995, to a wooded area off George Russell Road SW, where teens had stumbled upon Dailey’s body lying about 25 yards off the roadway.
“This was a 17-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy out hunting leaves for the girl’s leaf collection,” a Decatur police spokesperson told the Decatur Daily at the time.
Dailey had been killed by a single gunshot wound to the head.
About 90 minutes later, the victim’s 1983 Toyota Tercel was found partially submerged in the Tennessee River, AL.com reported. News reports at the time of the discovery indicated that a rock had been placed on the accelerator.
Despite an extensive investigation, no suspects ever emerged in the case, police officials said. Over the decades, the case was revisited multiple times, to no avail.
“There was nothing else to follow up on,” Mukaddam told AL.com. “When it gets like this, you’re hoping something else will come up.
“It usually doesn’t occur like this.”
The New York Times reported that Whited called the police switchboard on Wednesday and was transferred twice before his call landed with Mukaddam.
“‘I want to confess to a murder that I did years ago,’” Mukaddam said Whited told him, according to the Times.
There was one problem. Whited could not remember the date of the killing, or even the year in which it took place.
“We were scrambling to try to figure out what he was talking about,” Mukaddam told the newspaper.
Investigators took a chart of all homicides in Decatur stretching back to the 1980s and, using a description of the location provided by Whited, were able to connect his story to the killing of Dailey. A sworn statement obtained by The Associated Press indicates that Whited agreed to lead detectives to the crime scene.
“Detectives met with Whited, who reenacted the crime to detectives and provided corroborated information about the murder,” the statement said.
Whited, who was 28 years old when Dailey was slain, was also able to point out where he had submerged the man’s vehicle in the river, AL.com reported.
Mukaddam told WAAY in Huntsville that Whited gave investigators his alleged motive for the crime but declined to say what it was. Whited and Dailey did not know each other before the shooting.
The men met just moments before Dailey was slain, the detective said.
Whited had a string of drug arrests over the years, including an arrest for possession of a crack pipe less than three weeks after Dailey’s body was found, the AP reported. At the time of his confession to the killing, he was awaiting trial on a methamphetamine charge.
His attorney on the drug charge, Griff Belser, said he was unaware of the homicide until the announcement by Decatur police officials.
“He has not mentioned anything about this other matter to me,” Belser told the AP.
According to Belser, Whited has stage four lung cancer.
Mukaddam said Whited’s failing health appears to have prompted his sudden call to police.
“He’s terminally ill and my opinion is (that) he’s going to meet his maker soon,” the detective told WAAY. “He was ready to confess and close all the doors and give the victim’s family some closure.”
Mukaddam told the Times that Whited seemed remorseful for what he’d done.
“He was embarrassed about certain things,” the detective said. “He wanted to get it off his chest.”
Dailey’s sister was notified of the break in the case following Whited’s arrest.
“I told her every bit of details about the investigation, and I could see how grateful she was after 25 years,” Mukaddam said.
According to the Times, the detective downplayed his own role in the cold case arrest and credited his predecessors with compiling the evidence that allowed authorities to determine that Whited’s story was a legitimate one.
“I turned the last page and closed the book on the book that they wrote,” he said.