RICHMOND (CBS SF) -- Using the latest advances in DNA technology, police cold case investigators announced Thursday they have identified Jerry Lee Henderson as the suspect responsible for the 1999 murder of Meekiah Wadley inside a Richmond home.
While Henderson died 11 days after the murder of a suspected overdose, Richmond police hoped the revelation would provide some measure of closure for her relatives.
"Over the course of more than 20 years, law enforcement working this case never gave up," said California Attorney General Rob Bonta at a press conference. "It is my sincere hope that this resolution brings the family of Meekiah Wadley a measure of peace. Nothing can ever bring back a loved one, but we're committed to doing all we can to help bring the truth to light in the fight for justice."
Acting Richmond Police Chief Louie Tirona added: "It is my hope that this news brings needed closure to all those who knew and loved Meekiah Wadley."
RAW: Family Demands Acting Richmond Police Chief Identify Meekiah Wadley's Killer
At first, law enforcement at the news conference refused to identify the murderer, saying they didn't want to give him any notoriety.
"Why give someone fame and notoriety for a murder," asked Acting Richmond Police Chief Louie Tirona.
But Wadley's family - also present at the news conference and wearing "We love you" shirts showing an image of a smiling Wadley- insisted that they name him, and Tirona did eventually identify Henderson by name.
"Answers might not come today but it will come tomorrow. It's going to come," said Meekiah's sister Quila Wadley.
"My favorite auntie. She was beautiful, outgoing and smart. Loved to hang out and have fun," said her niece Devinee Peterson.
The Wadley family said Henderson was a friend of a friend of Meekiah's, who went into her home when she was out for the night, and when she came home he raped and suffocated her.
Meekia's family says Henderson was a friend of a friend, but that there was no other relationship besides that.
"I'm angry, hurt and sad," said Peterson. "We came to let the world know who it was and not to shove it under the rug. His family should know what he did."
The case dates back to January 1999. Richmond police responded to a call to a residence in the 1300 block of Carlson Blvd. after a nearby neighbor reported hearing screaming coming from the residence.
When the neighbor went to the residence and knocked on the front door, police were told, the screaming continued for approximately 30 seconds. The neighbor retreated to his apartment and called 911.
Arriving officers found the front door locked but the back door was unlocked and ajar. Once inside the home, officers found Wadley on the floor of her bedroom. Her hands were bound together with shoelaces, she had been killed by asphyxia due to smothering.
A buck knife was located under her body.
The initial investigation focused on a man she spent the prior evening with. Other than the initial person she was seen with the prior evening, there were no investigative leads. That person was ultimately ruled out as a suspect.
A variety of DNA testing was conducted in the years following the slaying.
In 2002, a mixed DNA profile was developed from swabs collected from Wadley's hands and a bloodstain at the crime scene. This DNA profile was submitted to the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to search the offender database. There were no matches.
In 2020, additional DNA testing was requested, focusing on previously untested fingernail clippings and ligatures. A male DNA profile from Wadley's fingernail clippings was developed.
In October 2020, the DNA profile created by the Contra Costa County crime lab was submitted to the DOJ's DNA Data Bank Program to conduct a familial search of the state DNA index system.
In April 2021, California Department of Justice and Bureau of Forensic Services and Bureau of Investigation agents presented the results of the requested familial search. The DOJ's investigation revealed a person who was a potential first-degree relative of the male suspect. But the relative was ruled out as a suspect.
Since Henderson also died in January 1999, the DNA search became even more complicated.
With the assistance of the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office, detectives were able to track down an immediate relative in September 2021. A buccal swab was obtained from the person and submitted to the crime lab.
On September 17, 2021, Richmond police received notification that the buccal swab from the relative confirmed Henderson's DNA matched the fingernail clippings from Wadley and investigators concluded Henderson was the person responsible for the murder.
Authorities say Henderson died of an apparent drug overdose 11 days after the murder.
Kenny Choi contributed to this report.
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