RIKERS ISLAND — The man charged with the 2004 cold-case murder of a Bushwick teen — linked to the crime with newly examined DNA evidence found underneath the girl's fingernails — calmly maintained his innocence in a jailhouse interview.
But the sister of Sharabia Thomas, who was 17 when she was murdered, said she was not convinced.
The body of 17-year-old Sharabia Thomas was found naked in an alleyway off of Palmetto Street in Bushwick, a few blocks from where she lived at the time. Her body was stuffed into two laundry bags, with marks on her arms and wrists from being tied up, and signs she'd been badly beaten.
The medical examiner's office ruled at the time that Sharabia, who was a senior at Bushwick's EBC High School, had been choked to death.
Twelve years went by without charges in connection to the murder until cold-case investigators finally tested Sharabia's fingernails and found material matching Govan's DNA — which was in the FBI's database from his 2014 arrest for robbery, they said. At the time, Govan lived near where Sharabia was found, prosecutors said.
"I feel sorry for her family, but I'm not the one," said Kwauhuru Govan, 38, wearing tan scrubs in a Rikers Island visiting room and insisting that he'd been framed.
He said he doesn't know how his DNA got under Sharabia's nails, adding, "I just want everyone to know that I didn't do it."
"I don't know what kind of person would do something like that," he added, "a sick person."
Govan was extradited from a Florida prison two weeks ago, where he served two and a half years for a strong-armed robbery. He was charged Nov. 17 with second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping in Sharabia's death.
At the time of Sharabia's murder, Govan was living on the border of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, a few blocks from the crime scene, but said he didn't remember hearing about the murder.
He added that he was 26 years old, happily married, and had lived in the neighborhood for his whole life.
"I would have never looked at her," he said, adding that Sharabia was in "a different age group."
Govan wouldn't say what he did for a living at the time, but said he continued to live in the neighborhood for another four years before moving out of state.
"Why would I stay if I did such a thing?" he said.
Before Govan left New York, he was arrested for impersonating a maintenance worker at a YMCA in Bedford-Stuyvesant , where he gained access to a security room and stole cameras, computer equipment and other technology, according to court records.
He spent a year in state prison for that theft after being convicted of third-degree burglary and attempted burglary, records show.
During his prison stint, he received two minor infractions, one for disobeying a guard's order and once for harassment, before being released in 2009, according to his disciplinary record.
Govan lived for several years in Florida and worked as a "storm chaser," following and studying violent weather, he said. He wouldn't divulge the details of his work, nor the company he worked for.
He said he split from his first wife and married another woman with whom he has young children, though he wouldn't give more details about his family to protect their anonymity.
While living in Davenport, Florida, he was arrested in 2014 after he admitted to robbing a convenient store, according to a court affidavit from Polk County.
Govan went into the store at 4 a.m. and tried to buy a beer but was told he couldn't because of the time.
He asked for cigarettes and a lighter, then flashed what the store clerk thought was a gun hidden in his belt, and walked out with the merchandise, prosecutors said.
Govan later admitted he got angry when the clerk wouldn't let him buy beer and said that he had a BB gun in his belt and wanted to scare the clerk, prosecutors said.
"I'm not a violent criminal," Govan said, when asked about his prior convictions.
"I have done things in my life but I would never do something like that," referring to Sharabia's murder.
A day before his release from the Florida prison, he was told that he'd be extradited the next day to New York for murder charges. Investigators had come to the prison in October to test his palms for DNA but he didn't know why at the time, he said.
Back in 2004 prosecutors said they took fingernail clippings and evidence from a sexual assault kit, though they determined the teen hadn't been raped.
They tested the rape kit, but not the fingernails, prosecutors said, and didn't run the fingernails for DNA evidence until June of this year when the cold case investigators at the Brooklyn District Attorney's office started to reexamine it.
"Why didn't they check the DNA then?" Govan wondered. "All they had to do was put it through the system."
"I'm innocent. That's all that matters," he insisted. "God knows the truth and I know the truth."
A law enforcement source said testing fingernails for DNA wasn't part of the medical examiners' standard protocol and that improvements to DNA technology have made testing more frequent in recent years.
The Brooklyn District Attorney's office referred to an earlier statement by acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
"It is my hope that solving this terrible crime will offer a small measure of comfort to Sharabia's family, who suffered such unspeakable loss," Gonzalez said. "I am determined to continue the important work of our Forensic Science Unit to ensure that even if justice is delayed, it is not denied."
Sharabia's sister, Shaniyia Thomas, 31, who was born a year before her, said Govan's arrest brought a bittersweet sense of closure to the family, but his claim of innocence was hard to stomach.
"Unbelievable, really unbelievable," said Thomas, who said before her sister's death, the two siblings were inseparable. Their mother dressed the two girls in matching outfits until they were in their teens, which both girls fought initially but then came to embrace, even thought they were a year apart.
Sharabia's death had rocked the family and their mother has never been the same, Thomas said.
"To hear this person still denies things, it's a little frustrating. DNA doesn't lie," she said. "Whatever he says, it's just a piece of garbage."
"Eventually he'll get what he deserves," she said. "I'm just keeping my fingers my crossed that this guy comes out and tells the truth."