He said he never met her, never saw her, knew nothing about her.
But Tampa police say Carl Chavers killed her.
Nine years ago, 15-year-old Laquetta Chael White left her Grant Park home for a dentist's appointment on Davis Islands only to be found dead 3 miles from home.
Until now, her mother has had few answers as to how, on Dec. 7, 2000, her daughter ended up naked and discarded, her dead body lying in an alley next to Connie's Restaurant at Oberry Street and 21st Avenue.
But Detectives Eric Houston and John Columbia this week brought Carla Wilson the closure she desired.
It came in the form of first-degree murder and sexual battery charges against Chavers, 40, a man police say lived three houses away from Laquetta's 5606 Terra Ceia Drive apartment building at the time of the killing.
Houston said DNA gathered from Chavers during a 2008 sexual battery case matched that found under Laquetta's fingernails.
They believe he's the man who abducted and strangled Laquetta after she left home at 9 a.m., planning to board a bus fora dental appointment she never kept.
When Houston and Columbia questioned him, Chavers denied the crime. But Thursday, he told police he was living in the neighborhood, Houston said.
Chavers is incarcerated at Tomoka Correctional Institute in Daytona Beach, where he is serving a 24-year sentence for lewd and lascivious sexual battery involving a 13-year-old girl, including a charge that he impregnated her.
The night before Laquetta died, her mother cooked her daughter's favorite dinner: sausage, stewed tomatoes and okra over yellow rice.
As Wilson told the St. Petersburg Times nine years ago, she and Laquetta had a dance contest and laughed. "She was actually being the little girl I wanted her to be," Wilson said back then.
The next day, Wilson, who worked as a school bus aide, passed by the homicide scene on her daily bus route as detectives were working it.
She had no idea until later that the person detectives were tending to was her own daughter.
Houston, who has managed about 12 cold cases since joining the cold case squad in 2005, said it feels good to share news of an arrest with a family member who has lived for years without knowing.
"That's the best part," he said.
Tampa Police have 282 unsolved murders going back to 1982.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.