Arrest made in Columbia pastor's 2009 beating death

Tryon Eichelberger (Source: Eichelberger family)
Tryon Eichelberger (Source: Eichelberger family)
Frankie Lee McGee (Source: CPD)
Frankie Lee McGee (Source: CPD)
Police sketch of suspect (Source: CPD)
Police sketch of suspect (Source: CPD)

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - After almost a year of searching for a pastor's murderer, Columbia police and Richland County deputies say they've arrested the man who beat the pastor to death in his own home.

Chemistry in a lab leads to tears of relief for a grieving daughter.

"I think my father is in heaven singing," said Mary Johnson after learning of the arrest. "It is bringing some healing, bringing some closure."

After 10 months of wondering who attacked their father, Rev. Tryon Eichelberger's four children get a break in the case thanks to science.

Police say Frankie Lee McGee, 44, of Kershaw County, went into Rev. Eichelberger's Isaac Street house in May 2009 and attacked the 87-year-old pastor with an iron bar. Eichelberger died two and a half months later from his injuries.

Nothing was taken from Eichelberger's home, and even his wallet was left with money in it. Shortly after the crime, police released a sketch of the person they believe did it.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says the forensics lab cracked the case. "With technology today, cases can be solved with a computer with a microscope," Lott said.

Officials would not give many specifics on what led them to McGee after a 10-month investigation, and wouldn't say if Eichelberger and McGee knew each other or if it was random attack.

Columbia Police Chief Tandy Carter refused to reveal evidence or give a motive for the crime, but did call McGee a habitual thief. Richland Co. Sheriff Leon Lott praised forensic investigators for helping to turn up or strengthen leads in the case. McGee is said to have been linked by DNA evidence to the scene.

McGee was already being held at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville on unrelated charges at the time of his arrest. He was taken to the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on Friday, where he is currently being held.

Whichever's four children said they never gave up hope thanks to the efforts of Columbia police and Richland County deputies.

"They communicated with us and didn't allow us to be afraid," Johnson said.

Columbia police asked Richland County to analyze it in their lab because the results can be processed faster than sending it off to the State Law Enforcement Division.

"We're the only agency in the whole state that has the luxury of having our own DNA lab," commented Lott.

The full service forensics lab can test DNA, conduct forensic drug identification and take digital surveillance. The county paid for it using grants and money seized from drug dealers.

"Scientists can solve cases now that we cannot solve by just working on the streets," Lott continued.

The police department says they did get tips from the public in Eichelberger's case, but McGee's DNA sealed the deal.

McGee has an arrest record dating back to 1994, with charges of possession of stolen goods, receiving stolen goods, driving with a suspended license, check fraud, drug activity, as well as multiple counts of larceny, grand larceny, burglary, robbery and attempted robbery.

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