Essence Duncan, 21, was reported missing on Nov. 27, 2007, and three weeks later her body was found floating in the Walker County Lake. In May 2011, Charles Ronez Dean, her boyfriend at the time of her disappearance, was indicted by a Walker County grand jury for Duncan’s murder. Dean, a 39-year-old from Jasper, entered a guilty plea to Walker County Circuit Judge Jerry Selman late last week and as a part of a plea deal was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Walker County District Attorney Bill Adair met with members of Duncan’s family Monday to announce the conviction.
“This is a long time coming,” Adair said. “The diligence of this family is what led to his indictment and his conviction.”
Adair said a key to the case was information given by Duncan’s daughter, who was 3 at the time her mother was killed.
“I spoke with her on a Sunday afternoon about a year ago, and she didn’t say it like an adult would, but she had the information that let us know for sure that he was the person who killed her mother,” Adair said. “I hope she realizes when she gets older that she was a big reason that we were able to arrest this man.”
Heather Medders, Duncan’s sister, said the conviction is something that she awaited for almost five years.
“We knew from the beginning that he had killed her,” she said. “I’m glad that he has had to take responsibility for what he did. It is providing our family with some justice.”
Medders, who has custody of Duncan’s three children, said they have adapted well.
“Nothing will ever take the place of their mother, but they are doing well,” she said.
When remembering her sister, Medders said she was “young, happy and loved everybody.”
Jason Lay, Duncan’s brother, said the conviction is providing the family with some closure.
“We appreciate all the work put into this case,” he said. “It is providing us with closure, and it keeps him from being able to do something else like this for a long time.”
Adair said the information given by the child, combined with interviews of several people in the community and the discovery that Dean attempted to make a fake phone call from Duncan’s phone only days after she disappeared, provided investigators with a strong circumstantial case.
“There wasn’t any forensic evidence,” said Frank Cole, an investigator with the district attorney’s office. “This was probably one of the top five hardest cases that I’ve worked in 40 years. It was the determination of this family that helped us put all the pieces together. They loved their sister so much that they wouldn’t give up. Their determination made us want to work even harder. My partner, John Softley, and I spent a lot of hours on this case.”
The conviction marks the third cold case the DA’s office has solved in the last two years.
Adair said investigators are currently working on two others.
“Solving cold cases has been and will continue to be an ongoing effort in our office,” he said. “All families in our county need justice when they’ve lost a loved one like this.”
Dean is being held in the Walker County Jail, awaiting a transfer to a state penitentiary.