Benita Murphy, a mother of four, was working a late shift at the store in Feb. 23, 1985, when she was robbed, kidnapped, raped and murdered, said police. The case has remained open without an arrest ever since. In 2005, Kinston police re-submitted evidence to the State Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab for DNA testing, and the system recently found a match.
On Wednesday, authorities arrested 44-year-old Johnny Mewborne inside a Greene County prison where he is already serving a life sentence.
"This case is an example of how DNA analysis combined with persistent police work can help us to catch criminals," said SBI spokeswoman Renee Robinson.
The SBI Crime Lab has tracked down more than 360 suspects in the past two years -- double the total number of hits during the previous decade.
The arrest was long overdue for Murphy's family. Her son, B.J. Murphy, was 4 years old when his mother was killed.
"For the family, this is a time of joy, it is a time of grief. We are reliving a lot of emotions that we've had bottled up for many years," the son said.
It was also an emotional day for investigators who began searching for Murphy's killer 21 years ago.
"We thank God for this day. At least now that we know the person is in custody," said retired Kinston police detective Bennette Simms.
Mewborne is serving a life sentence for a series of armed robberies. If convicted on the murder charge, he could face the death penalty. He is scheduled to make his first appearance on the new charges later this week.