COLD CASE: Man pleads guilty to 1984 double murder

CHARLOTTE — A man pleaded guilty last week to a cold-case double murder that happened in 1984 near the Hidden Valley neighborhood of Charlotte.

Sarah Mobley Hall and her son, Derick, were found brutally murdered in the Somerset Apartments where they lived 39 years ago off Reagan Drive.

Officers made a break in the case in February when they arrested 60-year-old James Thomas Pratt and charged him with two counts of first-degree murder.

Last week, Pratt took a plea deal, pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison, 30 years for each victim.

Detectives with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department who investigated the crime at the time said the place was ransacked and there were signs of a struggle.

Both mother and son were brutally beaten and strangled to death.

CMPD cold case Detective Matt Hefner said the plea deal marked the end of nearly four decades of a department never giving up.

“When you get a plea like this, it’s rewarding,” Hefner said. “It makes you smile. It makes you remember why you’re doing it.”

A DNA sample from Mobley’s pillow was eventually found and tested, but there was never a hit until 2023.

The DNA was sent to a state lab where it was run through a new database to see if there was a biological match to possibly a relative of a potential suspect. It’s called a familial DNA search. That was when they got a DNA hit.

The familial test led them to Pratt’s son.

“Ultimately, James Pratt’s son. We were contacting him, contacting his mother to find out who his father was,” Hefner said.

Hefner said when they spoke with Pratt’s son, he called his father and told them they needed to help police find a potential killer in their family – not knowing it would lead to his father.

Detectives caught up with Pratt where he worked in South Carolina and told them about the investigation. Hefner said Pratt consented to voluntarily giving them a DNA sample. That sample matched exactly with the DNA left at the scene decades ago. Pratt was arrested for the murders and admitted that he did it in an interview with police.

“He provided us details that no one other than the killer could have told us,” Hefner said. “And he wept. He was extremely remorseful. But again, he had 39 years to prepare himself that this may come.”

Hefner said they took another look at this case after one of Hall’s distant relatives called the tipline and asked to speak with a cold case detective. CMPD pulled the case for a fresh look and saw that DNA was found decades ago and could be tested using the familial testing method.

Hefner was the detective who got the chance to call that distant relative back, as well as Hall’s sister, Mary Dae. Hefner said the family was elated and couldn’t believe an arrest had been made all these years later.

In a letter to the judge during Pratt’s sentencing, Dae wrote, “Murder is a horrible crime. Thank God for DNA.”

She went on to write that Pratt, “should spend the rest of his life in prison as he has had 40 years to live his life freely while my family and I have been without our loved ones wondering if anyone would ever be brought to justice.”

CMPD said it is currently using the new method in investigations that are underway, thanks to a $2 million grant the department was awarded. Detectives hope it will help homicide detectives crack the cases in which DNA was left behind. Currently CMPD has roughly 700 open homicide cases in which roughly 100 have happened within the last 5 years, according to Hefner.

VIDEO: Charlotte-based nonprofit working to shine light on missing persons, cold cases locally, nationally

Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.

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