DULUTH – Letters from 20 colleagues, friends and family members urged a St. Louis County judge to waive bail and release Mike Carbo Jr., an Iron Range man charged with second-degree murder last month after public genealogy databases linked him to a 34-year-old cold case killing.

"I am in total disbelief of the charge against him," wrote Richard Jenkins, Carbo's stepfather. "He has always been a kind, respectful and jolly person."

But at a hearing Thursday, Judge Mark Starr ruled that Carbo's bond should remain the same unless "serious questions of the reliability of the DNA evidence" were to arise.

"I think anybody living in the block that he lives in would be very legitimately fearful for their own safety," Starr said.

On July 16, 1986, Chisholm, Minn., police found 38-year-old Nancy Daugherty dead in her bed, where she had apparently been sexually assaulted and strangled. Investigators at the scene collected DNA, which law enforcement said matched a recent sample they surreptitiously obtained from Carbo after a company's analysis of genealogy databases identified him as a suspect.

Carbo is being held in the St. Louis County jail on $1 million bail. His public defender, J.D. Schmid, argued in a hearing Thursday that the amount is "excessive" given the lack of evidence that the 52-year-old Chisholm man poses a flight risk or threat to his community.

"We're obviously disappointed," said Schmid, who asked the judge to place Carbo in a pretrial supervised release program that would monitor him using GPS technology. "I think the judge's decision reflects the decision that Mr. Carbo is guilty, and I think that's wrongful factually and legally."

Carbo lived less than a mile from Daugherty at the time of her death and attended school with her two children. He was 18 at the time and has spent most of his life since on the Iron Range.

According to court documents, Carbo has two daughters who live in the region and has maintained steady employment for nearly three decades, most recently working full time as a care provider at a Chisholm facility for people who suffer from mental illness or brain injuries.

He was convicted of burglary charges in 1988 and 1990, in addition to being charged in 2002 and 2007 for careless driving and not having insurance. Court documents said Carbo abused drugs and alcohol when he was younger but has not had problems with substance use in nearly 20 years.

In the letters Schmid collected, many of them handwritten, Carbo's supervisor at work described him as reliable, friendly and outgoing. His former property manager called him polite, respectful and fun. Longtime family friends said they'd never seen Carbo angry or violent, even when he was drinking or upset.

"The Mike I know is the dearest, nicest man I have ever met," said Tammy Putney, who wrote she's been a friend of Carbo's since 1996. "Mike would bend over backwards and help anyone in need, he would give the shirt off his back to anyone, even if he didn't know them."

"He's the best father I could ever ask for," wrote his daughter, Audrey Carbo.

Carbo appeared for the hearing via Zoom, wearing cuffs around his wrists and ankles as a corrections officer led him in and out of a room. He sat quietly, raising his hand once to wave back at a friend greeting him through the webcam.

"I know Mr. Carbo has been in the community for a number of years," Chris Florey, an assistant St. Louis County attorney, said to Starr. "But he hasn't been in the community for a number of years with a second-degree murder charge and potential DOC time hanging over his head."

For decades, state and local law enforcement conducted more than 100 DNA tests, repeatedly meeting dead ends in their efforts to solve the gruesome case that shocked the small northeastern Minnesota town. Daugherty's daughter, Gina Haggard, made a number of pleas over the years asking the public to come forward with information. Multiple agencies offered rewards as high as $50,000 for tips.

The case is one of the first in the state involving the use of public genealogy databases, though such tools have successfully helped authorities elsewhere track down and convict criminals, including California's infamous Golden State Killer.

"It involves significant privacy concerns that you don't get from a traditional DNA type of test," Schmid said.

The public defender said he thinks "there's a good chance that we're going to be able to clear Mr. Carbo." In a court filing, Schmid wrote that "information contained in laboratory records frequently reveal ambiguities, mistakes and/or misinterpretations that can affect both the strength and integrity of DNA evidence."

Carbo will appear before Starr next at an omnibus hearing Sept. 17.

Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478