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Fort Hood soldier charged with murder in 2019 Killeen motel death of woman

Spc. Cory Grafton, 20, was charged with first degree murder Tuesday for the 2019 death of 32-year-old Chelsea Lynell Cheatham. (Austin American-Statesman/TNS)

A Fort Hood soldier has been charged with murder in the 2019 death of a 32-year-old woman found unconscious in a Killeen motel.

U.S. Army Spc. Cory Grafton, 20, was arrested by Killeen police on Tuesday after a witness stepped forward to say the soldier was with Chelsea Lynell Cheatham around the time she died.

Investigators said they tested DNA evidence found on Cheatham, which they matched to Grafton.

Fort Hood officials on Thursday confirmed Grafton was an active-duty soldier assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood. However, Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam said all other questions regarding the case will be handled by local police.

“The unit continues to cooperate with the Killeen Police Department and the Texas Rangers,” Brautigam said.

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Authorities were first called out to the Days Inn motel at 1602 East Central Texas Expressway in Killeen the night of June 3, 2019, after reports of a woman who was unconscious and not breathing.

Police officers tried to save her life, but she was pronounced dead less than an hour later.

Although investigators initially said it was unclear whether Cheatham was killed or died of natural causes, an autopsy later ruled her death a homicide.

Killeen police on Tuesday thanked officials with the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Program for their help with the case. However, they did not specify whether the DNA evidence found on the victim was of a sexual nature.

Grafton, who is charged with first-degree murder, was in the Bell County Jail on Thursday with bail set at $1 million.

Fort Hood has been no stranger to soldier violence in recent months.

While Fort Hood had earned a national reputation as a staging ground for troops deployed to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the past, more recent attention has focused on at least 27 soldier deaths that occurred stateside this year. Five of those deaths include suspected foul play.

The Central Texas post is now at the center of military, congressional and independent investigations into its leaders and several of the soldiers’ deaths.

Two of the cases listed in the congressional investigation — those of Spc. Vanessa Guillen and Sgt. Elder Fernandes — involve reports of sexual assault and harassment, which sparked a separate investigation into how the post handles claims of sexual misconduct.

The public outcry over Guillen’s case specifically propelled the deep dive into Fort Hood’s handling of sexual assault and harassment. The hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen went viral on social media as hundreds of service members shared personal accounts of being subjected to sexual misconduct in the military.

Fort Hood Spc. Aaron David Robinson was accused of killing Guillen on post in April. However, police say he took his own life in July just hours after Guillen’s remains were found.

Guillen’s family repeatedly accused Robinson of also sexually harassing Guillen, but Army officials say they have no substantial evidence to prove those claims.

A draft of the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act was introduced in Congress in late September. If signed into law, it would allow a third party to investigate and prosecute sexual misconduct claims within the military.

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(c) 2020 Austin American-Statesman

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.