It took 15 years.
North Charleston police investigators tried to use DNA in 1999 to solve the homicide of Edwina Shelton, a well-known singer who was raped and left for dead. It wasn’t until a detective recently decided to give the cold case another shot that the alleged killer was caught.
Anthony Andrew Heyward, 51, an inmate already serving a life sentence at Lieber Correctional Institution, was charged Tuesday with the 44-year-old woman’s murder.
Most people would have given up, but Shelton’s daughter, Nyetta Chapman, said she always knew this day would come.
“Since it happened, Dec. 10, 1999, I’ll never forget it, I’ve been waiting for this day and I knew it was going to happen,” she said. “(My mother) would always tell me to be strong and to have faith, and I didn’t see it back then, but after she died, I kept that faith that she talked to me so much about.”
Chapman, 40, couldn’t hide her happiness Wednesday as she reminisced about her mother and described what it was like to finally get some closure so many years after her death.
“I feel like a butterfly,” she said, smiling, her eyes still dotted with tears. “I finally got my wings.”
She said the police department also never gave up and expressed gratitude for investigators’ work on the case.
“They said back then that it wouldn’t be a cold case forever,” Chapman recalled. “ And they stayed true to their word.”
The detective who worked the cold case said breaking the news to the family was “probably the single best moment for me in my entire career.”
His identity is being withheld because of the nature of his current police work, but the detective said he chose the Shelton case as one of his cold case assignments and grew attached over time through the work he put into it.
Heyward is accused of killing Shelton, whose badly bruised body was found behind a vacant house on Navajo Street, near Cosgrove and Rivers avenues.
Her body was found clothed only in a shirt, and there was evidence she had been sexually assaulted, according to police. She had no identification on her when she was found, and investigators learned who she was by showing her picture around the city.
She was last seen the night before her body was found, as she was leaving a relative’s house in North Charleston. Her body was found about 7 a.m. Police found no signs of life but noted her body was still warm.
Investigators submitted semen samples from the scene to the State Law Enforcement Division for DNA analysis at the time but didn’t get a match, police spokesman Spencer Pryor said. The police detective on the case resubmitted the sample in 2014, and this time the evidence pointed to Heyward.
The detective said that while he was reviewing the case, he knew that the DNA database had grown significantly since 1999 and “just decided to give it another shot.” He said he “got lucky.”
“It’s good when it all comes together,” he said, adding that he hopes other victims’ families will get a renewed sense of hope from the outcome, and anyone else who has information about other unsolved cases that could lead to an arrest will be inspired to come forward.
Sgt. Mark Evans said detectives are constantly reviewing cold cases to look for more evidence or to see if new leads develop.
“I can’t speak for (the detective who worked the cold case), I know he put a lot of work into it, but for the agency, it’s a great thing — it just shows what we did back then to preserve the evidence paid off,” Evans said.
Hewyard has been in prison since 2001 and is serving a life sentence for kidnapping and first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
He appeared Wednesday morning for a bond hearing in North Charleston, which Chapman attended.
“It has been a dream of mine for this whole 15 years to look at him in the eyes,” she said. “Initially, I thought I would be afraid because all these years I imagined a monster. ... But (my) emotion didn’t come from him because to me he was invisible, to me, the emotion came when I talked about her.”
Chapman said she and her mother were very close and described her as a good woman who exuded love.
“She would always let me know how much she loved me; we were best friends,” she said. “There hasn’t been a day that I haven’t thought about her. Through everything, I can always feel her love, her comfort — through the good times, through the bad times.”
Shelton added the alto and soprano to the Charleston Connection, a singing group popular among middle-aged listeners in the early 1980s. She also sang with the Soul Sensations, Cornelius Brothers, Sister Rose and Times. She retired from singing in the mid-’80s to spend time with her family.
Mourners at her funeral in a small chapel in the Liberty Hill neighborhood predicted that, one day, her killer would be found.
“God, one day, is going to let everything out,” the Rev. Isaac J. Holt told the crowd sitting near her white casket. “You can’t hide a lie too long. The truth has a way to rise up.”
On Wednesday, Chapman said she had plans to take her own children to her mother’s grave site in North Charleston.
“I can really finally just stop there and say, ‘Momma, we got him. We got him,’” she said.
Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.