A South Carolina man arrested in the 1990 cold case murder of a North Carolina girl made his first appearance in court on Monday.

U.S. Marshals arrested 52-year-old Donald Preston Ferguson of Spartanburg, S.C., last week in the death of 7-year-old Shalonda S. Poole of Greensboro, N.C., who was murdered 23 years ago.  

Ferguson is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree sex offense in connection with Shalonda's death after forensic evidence linked him to the crime, according to police.

Capt. Mike Richey said detectives had been working the case for years but were never able to make an arrest. Shalonda was the only child murder cold case in the Greensboro police files since 1969, according to Fox affiliate WGHP-TV, which interviewed Detective Tony Hinson, the lead detective in the investigation.

"I remember having a conversation with Mrs. Poole and she asked me to promise her that I would never give up," Hinson said of the girl's mother. "I would never promise to make an arrest or solve a case, but I did promise her I would never give up. I am happy I fulfilled that promise," Hinson said.

Hinson declined to elaborate on what kind of evidence he said linked Ferguson to the murder. 

"It was incredible," he told the station. "At first, I was very cautious when I began working this particular lead on Mr. Ferguson. I didn’t want to alert the family too early."

The girl's body was found behind an elementary school -- in an area where police said Ferguson occasionally worked. Authorities said the child had been sexually assaulted and then strangled.

Ferguson is being held in the Spartanburg County jail pending extradition to Greensboro.

The judge appointed Ferguson a public defender and capital defender. He is expected back in court on Feb. 27. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

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