Local News

Four years after Sampson girl's mysterious death, family doubts suspect is lone killer

Posted September 8
Updated September 11

— Four years have passed since McKenzie Sessoms was found dead in her Sampson County home, and her family said they still have unanswered questions about how she died.

"It's been four years, the hardest four years I've ever spent. Somebody knows something. Somebody was there," said Cathy Starke, McKenzie's grandmother.

The 11-year-old was living with her father and two adult brothers on Hairr Lane in Salemburg when one of her brothers had a party on Sept. 5, 2013. McKenzie slept on the living room couch, and when her father tried to wake her for school the next morning, there was no response.

An autopsy determined the Salemburg Elementary School fifth-grader had been raped and suffocated.

Eight months later, the Sampson County Sheriff's Office arrested Antonio Trey Jones, who was 14 at the time, citing DNA evidence and exhaustive interviews.

Starke and her husband said it would have been impossible for Jones, who lived nearby, to have committed the crime by himself.

"He wouldn't weigh 80 pounds soaking wet," Starke said.

"We truly believe there is somebody else, at least one individual," said Dudley Starke, McKenzie's grandfather.

Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton referred all questions about the case to District Attorney Ernie Lee, who declined to discuss details of the case.

When Thornton announced Jones' arrest in 2014, he said the pool of potential suspects initially consisted of more than a dozen people but had been narrowed to one, and he didn't expect additional charges being filed.

"When you constantly come up with no answers or answers that don't make sense, you start questioning about it," Dudley Starke said. "Looks like answers are not forthcoming."

Jones, now 18, was released on a $100,000 bond this spring and is under house arrest in Franklin County, where he lives with his mother.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Josh Stein's office said the last test in the case from the state's crime lab was released on Aug. 24. Lee said he has met with McKenzie's family numerous times and understands their frustration.

"This young'un deserves justice, and so does this family," Cathy Starke said. "McKenzie did not deserve this, and I will not stop looking and trying to find answers."

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