Florida man linked by DNA to 1985 murder found dead in cell

Wells was arrested for a 35-year-old Florida Panhandle slaying

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PENSACOLA, Fla. – A man who was arrested last month in a 35-year-old Florida Panhandle slaying has been found dead in jail from an apparent suicide, authorities said.

Daniel Leonard Wells, 57, was found hanged in his cell at the Escambia County Jail early Thursday morning, according to the sheriff’s office. His first hearing to face charges of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual battery had been scheduled for April 8, the Pensacola News Journal reported.

Pensacola detectives arrested Wells on March 18 and charged him with the slaying of Tonya McKinley, 23, whose body was found before dawn on New Year’s Day 1985.

She had been strangled and sexually assaulted, officials said. She had last been seen at a Pensacola bar shortly after the start of the new year. No suspects had been publicly named.

Wells was recently identified after a Virginia-based company working with the Pensacola Police Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ran a DNA sample from the crime scene through an open-source genealogy database and identified several distant cousins of the suspect.

A family tree was constructed that eventually led investigators to Wells.