Modern technology helps Tallahassee Police Department make arrest in cold case

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — More than 25 years after his murder, the Tallahassee Police Department says they know who killed James Branner.

The cold case cracked-thanks to modern technology and thorough police work.

“I’m 42. And it happened when I was 16. So 26 years, we’ve been waiting for an answer on that,” Holly McNabb the daughter of Branner said.

“I’m very glad to know that the person is finally behind bars is going to get what he deserves,” McNabb said.

Branner was murdered July 2, 1996 at what was at the time called the Prince Murat motel.

The case went cold until 2020 when Tallahassee Police Detective Brittney Able reopened it.

“I began reviewing cold cases. I noticed that this one had an abundance of physical evidence and there’s new technology so I decided to give it a try,” Able said.

By working with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Parabon Nanolab that evidence left behind at the crime scene became a crucial element in solving the case.

“When I got to a certain part of the testing, we moved to geneology testing to get more results. That gave us leads and a direction to go in,” Able said.

Geneology testing– just like your family tree.

Cece Moore was the genealogist who worked on the case.

She says getting a match meant building a family tree from the matches.

Mostly second and third cousins who used one of the two smaller ancestry companies that doesn’t bar law enforcement from its data.

“For anybody who has committed a violent crime, left their DNA behind at the crime scene, they need to be worried, because we are closing in on them,” Moore said.

Moore and her team helped Florida law enforcement pinpoint one person they say left DNA behind; 71-year-old Alan Leffert.

He was arrested in Jacksonville for the crime.

“Greatly appreciate the hard work and Tallahassee Police Department. I mean, they never let it rest. It’s been on their website updated, you know, frequently followed up with us every time we’ve ever called. And I’m super glad that the hard work of the new detective,” McNabb said.

Able acknowledged that she was honored that she could give the family closure in the case.

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