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DNA evidence linked suspect in Eliza Fletcher’s killing to 2021 rape case, investigators in Memphis say

<i>Shelby County Sheriff's Office/Associated Press</i><br/>Cleotha Henderson
Shelby County Sheriff's Office/Associated Press
Cleotha Henderson

By Melissa Alonso, CNN

Cleotha Henderson, the man accused of kidnapping and killing Memphis teacher Eliza Fletcher earlier this month, has been indicted on rape charges in a separate case from 2021, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said.

Henderson was indicted Thursday on charges of aggravated rape, kidnapping and unlawful possession of a weapon in a case from September last year after DNA evidence linked him to it, the bureau said in a statement.

Henderson, 38, was linked to Fletcher’s kidnapping after DNA found near the scene of her abduction was matched to his DNA in CODIS — the national criminal database. He faces multiple charges in the killing of Fletcher, 34, who disappeared after she went jogging in Memphis early September 2.

“During the active investigation into the abduction of Eliza Fletcher, TBI was made aware by the Memphis Police Department of a sexual assault kit submission that might be linked to an unrelated open MPD investigation into a sexual assault that occurred in September (2021)” in which Henderson “may have been a suspect,” the statement said.

Police had submitted the rape kit “on September 23, 2021, and the evidence was put into the queue of unknown assailant kits, as no request was made for TBI analysis to be expedited, and no suspect information or DNA standard was included,” the bureau’s statement said.

“The TBI accepts rush DNA cases when requested by a local investigative agency, as we did in the recent Eliza Fletcher case,” the statement added.

A forensic scientist put the “unknown male DNA profile into CODIS,” the national database housing DNA profiles collected from crime scene evidence, “which returned a match on September 5” for Henderson in connection to the September 2021 sexual assault, the statement said.

The bureau then reported the finding to Memphis police.

The processing of all kits has typically taken at least 33 weeks this past year, the bureau told CNN. Authorities in Shelby County “submitted 316 sexual assault requests to the TBI Crime Laboratory, which was the most for any of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Knox County ranked second with 168 requests,” the bureau said.

CNN has reached out to the Shelby County public defender for comment on Henderson’s latest charges. The Shelby County district attorney’s office did not provide a comment to CNN, citing the pending nature of the case.

Henderson served nearly two decades behind bars for an aggravated kidnapping, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to the charge in November 2001 and was released in November 2020, CNN has reported.

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