Answers, finally, but no justice in 1995 rape, murder of 14-year-old, family says

Acquanellia Smith, mother of Nacole Smith, speaks during a news conference Tuesday at Atlanta Police headquarters about a 1995 cold case involving her daughter, who was 14 when she was raped and shot twice in the head. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Acquanellia Smith, mother of Nacole Smith, speaks during a news conference Tuesday at Atlanta Police headquarters about a 1995 cold case involving her daughter, who was 14 when she was raped and shot twice in the head. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Suspect died of natural causes months after DNA match, police say

She dreamed of being a doctor and was days from her middle school graduation. Nacole Smith was excited to shop for a pretty white dress to wear to the ceremony.

But on June 7, 1995, the 14-year-old died after being raped and shot twice in the face before she could make it to school, according to Atlanta police. For more than 26 years, her family prayed for answers, hopeful the person responsible would be found.

The wait for answers is over, but the family says there is no justice for Nacole. The suspect identified by DNA died last year of natural causes, having never been charged, police say.

“I never imagined this person would be deceased. So many unanswered questions I had for him,” Acquanellia Smith, Nacole’s mother, said Tuesday. “I’ll live with this pain for the rest of my life. Just take it one day at a time. There’s nothing more I can say right now.”

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Betty Brown (foreground left), another victim, and Acquanellia Smith, mother of Nacole Smith, comfort each other during a news conference Tuesday at Atlanta Police headquarters. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Betty Brown (foreground left), another victim, and Acquanellia Smith, mother of Nacole Smith, comfort each other during a news conference Tuesday at Atlanta Police headquarters. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Betty Brown (foreground left), another victim, and Acquanellia Smith, mother of Nacole Smith, comfort each other during a news conference Tuesday at Atlanta Police headquarters. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The suspect, a 49-year-old man who lived near Nacole’s family’s home in Atlanta, died in August from liver and kidney failure, police said Tuesday. He had no known criminal record. DNA linking him to Nacole’s case was gathered from another victim. In 2004, a 13-year-old East Point girl was pulled into the woods on Connally Drive and raped. She was able to run to safety, and DNA from that case showed a forensic match to Nacole’s attacker.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is not naming the person as no charges were ever filed.

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Nacole Smith was 14 when she was raped and murdered in 1995. The case was solved in 2021. (Family photo)

Credit: AJC

Nacole Smith was 14 when she was raped and murdered in 1995. The case was solved in 2021. (Family photo)

Credit: AJC

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Nacole Smith was 14 when she was raped and murdered in 1995. The case was solved in 2021. (Family photo)

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Survivor Betty Brown stood beside Nacole’s mother during a news conference at Atlanta Police headquarters.

“I’m sorry we had to meet under these circumstances,” Brown told Acquanellia Smith.

The AJC does not typically name survivors of sexual assaults. In this case, Brown spoke publicly to share her experience.

Brown helped investigators develop a sketch of the suspect: a man in his late 20s to early 30s, with a medium complexion and a gap in his front teeth, wearing round prescription gold-framed glasses. The sketch was featured on a billboard near where Nacole was killed and the story went national, with the television show “America’s Most Wanted” featuring the case.

Authorities identified a person of interest, according to Scott Demeester, the detective most recently assigned to the case. The GBI was able to match DNA samples from the two cases in December, months after the suspect died.

“My feelings are all over the place,” Smith said Tuesday. “There’s not a pill that can take that pain away.”

Her daughter had left to head to Ralph Bunche Middle School with her older sister and a friend all those years ago. When Nacole realized she had forgotten a school project, she turned back toward her family’s Campbellton Road apartment, taking a popular shortcut through the woods.

She never made it back home.

Explore20 years later, 14-year-old’s brutal killing remains unsolved

Investigators believe Nacole struggled with a man with a gun who assaulted her. He shot her, and the bullets hit her in the face, killing her.

Two security guards at a nearby apartment complex heard the shots and ran into the woods, where they found Nacole and her bookbag, which contained her identification and address.

Years later, Smith told the AJC she had also heard the gunshots, followed by the sound of a police helicopter. There was a knock on the door, and when she opened it, two Atlanta police officers told Smith that Nacole had been killed. Smith identified her daughter at a funeral home.

“I saw that she had cried and tears had dried up on her face,” Smith said.

The case was a priority for Atlanta police, but eventually, it went cold. In 2002, Atlanta Police Detective Vincent Velazquez reopened the case, he said Tuesday.

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Betty Brown, another victim, can’t hide her emotions as she speaks during a news conference Tuesday about the 1995 cold case of Nacole Smith, who was 14 and raped and shot twice in the head. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Betty Brown, another victim, can’t hide her emotions as she speaks during a news conference Tuesday about the 1995 cold case of Nacole Smith, who was 14 and raped and shot twice in the head. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

caption arrowCaption
Betty Brown, another victim, can’t hide her emotions as she speaks during a news conference Tuesday about the 1995 cold case of Nacole Smith, who was 14 and raped and shot twice in the head. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Through tears, Brown said though it wasn’t the outcome she wanted, she can now set aside the pain she has lived with since her assault.

“He is no longer out there able to do the things that he did to me and Nacole and to others,” Brown said.

She also wants the suspect’s family to know the pain that her family has felt for 18 years.

“To know the man who you loved, you respected did something so horrible to me and Nacole, I want you to live in that,” she said. “I want you to wear that like I did. Like I do every day of my life. I’m mad I didn’t get that opportunity to face him and look him in his eyes.”