SHELBY Authorities continue to look for new information in the case of Asha Degree, a 9-year-old girl who vanished from her Shelby home on Valentines Day in 2000, and are now focusing on a Spartanburg man recently charged in the 1990 death of a Greensboro girl.
Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman said Wednesday that investigators are examining the mans background.
While the man is not considered a person of interest in the Asha Degree case at this time, Norman said he had to go back and forth through Cleveland County to get to Spartanburg. We want to know where he worked, who his associates were and where he was at 14 years ago.
According to The Associated Press, federal authorities arrested Donald Preston Ferguson, 52, on Jan. 7. He was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree sex offense in connection with the death of 7-year-old Shalonda S. Poole. Police said forensic evidence linked Ferguson to the girls death.
Her body was found behind an elementary school. Police said she had been assaulted and strangled. Authorities said Ferguson occasionally worked in the area near the school. He left the area the month after the girl disappeared from her home, investigators said.
Ferguson was convicted in a sexual assault case in Spartanburg and was released from a South Carolina prison in 1997, the AP reported. Currently, hes being held without bond in the Guilford County Detention Center.
Authorities said Asha Degree left her home in the middle of the night. Her family last saw her asleep in the bedroom of their Oakcrest Drive home north of Shelby about 2:30 a.m. Feb. 14, 2000. About 90 minutes later, a trucker spotted her walking along N.C. 18, a little more than a mile from home.
That was the last reported sighting of the girl.
Eighteen months later, in August 2001, a construction worker found a book bag buried along N.C. 18 south of Morganton in Burke County about 20 miles from her home.
Investigators said several of Ashas belongings were found in the bag.
Norman said new information about the case comes in from time to time, and investigators follow up on everything.
I consider this a very active case, he said We want to follow all avenues and leads and find the pieces of the puzzle not looked at. Were trying to bring closure for the family and the community.
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