A Fort Hood soldier was arrested for the murder of a 32-year-old woman found dead in a room at a Days Inn motel last July, authorities said.
Cory Gafton, 20, was arrested and charged Tuesday afternoon with the murder of Chelsea Cheatham in July 2019, ending a multi-year in-depth investigation. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, one of Gafton’s colleagues told authorities the 20-year-old soldier confessed to killing Cheatham.
A spokesperson for Fort Hood, a U.S. Army post, did not immediately respond to the Daily Beast’s request for comment. Grafton is currently being held at Killeen City Prison.
“Through the investigation, detectives in the Homicide Unit received information from a witness that Cory Grafton, 20, was at the scene at the time Chelsea Cheatham was murdered,” the Department of Justice said. Killeen police in a statement Wednesday.
Killeen Police said on June 3, 2019, Cheatham was found around 10:40 p.m. unconscious and not breathing in a Days Inn in Killeen, about six minutes from Fort Hood. The 32-year-old woman was pronounced dead about an hour later and an autopsy from the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas later declared her death a homicide.
Authorities have refused to identify Cheatham’s cause of death.
Despite the suspicious circumstances, the case quickly turned cold, prompting authorities in June to appeal to the public for leads and offer a reward of $ 1,000 for any information leading to an arrest.
On September 2, 2020, Texas Rangers informed the Killeen Police Department of the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative program, which uses advanced DNA testing to help resolve cases. Authorities said that thanks to the program, investigators were close to identifying Grafton as a potential suspect.
After interviewing Grafton about the death of the 32-year-old man and collecting a sample of his DNA, the Texas Department of Public Safety said one of the 20-year-old’s co-workers revealed that he had confessed to killing Cheatham. On Tuesday, test results reportedly confirmed Grafton’s DNA matched DNA found at the crime scene, and he was subsequently arrested.
“With the help of the Texas Rangers, DNA from the scene was submitted and the results confirmed that Grafton matched the DNA located in Cheatham. On November 3, 2020, detectives from the Homicide Unit obtained a warrant and shortly after 4:00 p.m. the warrant was executed, ”the Killeen Police Department said.
Gafton’s arrest marks another Fort Hood soldier who has been charged with being involved in a grisly murder.
In July, the remains of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old First Class Private stationed at Fort Hood, were discovered in a shallow grave near Leon River.
A day after his body was discovered, a military officer, Aaron Robinson, committed suicide after being confronted with his involvement in Guillen’s disappearance. Prior to Guillen’s disappearance, she reportedly told family members, friends and colleagues that she had been sexually harassed by her superiors on two occasions. The family had previously said that Guillen’s sexual harassment allegations led the military base to “cover up” his initial disappearance.
Officials named the suspect Robinson a fellow soldier. The Bell County Sheriff’s Office identified the second suspect as Cecily Aguilar, who was charged with conspiring to tamper with evidence two days after her boyfriend, Robinson, died by suicide.
According to Natalie Khawam, the family’s lawyer, Robinson savagely attacked Guillen at the armory after noticing his relationship with the ex-wife of a former soldier from Fort Hood. When Guillen reminded him that the relationship was in violation of military rules, he allegedly took a hammer and started “pummeling her in the head over and over.” Robinson then allegedly took Guillen’s body to a river and enlisted his girlfriend’s help in disposing of the remains.
Last month, officials at Fort Hood determined that Gullien’s death occurred in the line of duty, clearing the way for his family to qualify for certain military benefits. “Typically, these benefits include compensation to immediately help the family cover their expenses, funeral with full military honors, military group life insurance, and final salary and allowances,” officials said in a statement.
If you or a loved one is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK at 741741.
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