Fort Hood soldier arrested in the 2019 murder of Chelsea Cheatham

Grace Hauck and Heather Osbourne, USA TODAY

A Fort Hood soldier has been arrested in the 2019 homicide of 32-year-old Chelsea Cheatham in Killeen, Texas, according to police.

Cory Grafton, 20, was taken into custody Tuesday on charges of first-degree felony murder. He was at the scene when Cheatham was killed, and his DNA matched what was found on Cheatham, according to a Killeen Police Department news release Wednesday.

He was being held on $1 million bond, according to Bell County Jail.

Grafton is an active-duty soldier assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam told USA TODAY. Brautigam said the unit was cooperating with the Killeen Police Department and the Texas Rangers.

Cheatham was killed at a Days Inn on the Central Texas Expressway in June 2019. Police were sent to the hotel on reports of a woman who was unconscious and not breathing. Officers tried to revive her, but she was pronounced dead, police said.

An autopsy recently determined the manner of death was a homicide. Justice of the Peace Daryl Peters ordered the autopsy at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas.

Fort Hood, the U.S. Army’s largest military installation and historically known as "The Great Place," has the highest rates of violent crime in the U.S. Army, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy told Congress in July. Fort Hood and Killeen also were the sites of three mass shootings in the past 30 years.

The Central Texas post is now at the center of military, congressional and independent investigations into its leaders and several of its soldiers' deaths. Two of the cases listed in the congressional investigation involve reports of sexual assault and harassment, which sparked a separate investigation into how the post handles claims of sexual misconduct.

The U.S. Army announced in early September that Fort Hood’s top commander, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, would be stepping down from his position to serve as the deputy commanding general of the base in Killeen.

Data collected by The New York Times shows that more troops from Fort Hood have died by homicides on and off the post since 2016 than have died in combat zones. The Times found 159 noncombat deaths of Fort Hood soldiers since the beginning of 2016, which included seven homicides and 71 suicides.

The national spotlight on Fort Hood began to intensify this year after the disappearance of 20-year-old Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen of Houston. In April, Guillen vanished at the base, and her remains were found three months later.

Supporters of the family of slain Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen march to the White House along the National Mall as Capitol Hill is seen in the distance after a news conference, in Washington on July 30, 2020.
Supporters of the family of slain Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen march to the White House along the National Mall as Capitol Hill is seen in the distance after a news conference, in Washington on July 30, 2020.

Army officials identified 20-year-old Spc. Aaron David Robinson of Illinois as a suspect in her disappearance and killing. Last month, U.S. Army officials announced Guillen died "in the line of duty." She was one of at least four soldiers who died by homicide in 2020.

In March, Spc. Shelby Jones was shot at a strip club in Killeen and taken to a nearby convenience store where someone reported the shooting to authorities. He died at the scene as medics tried to save his life, authorities said. Two weeks later, local authorities found three people dead with gunshot wounds inside a Killeen apartment, including 23-year-old Spc. Freddy Beningo Delacruz Jr.

A few weeks after Guillen’s disappearance, the body of Pfc. Brandon Rosecrans of Fort Hood was found with gunshot wounds on a roadside about 20 miles east of Killeen. By mid-June – in the midst of the Guillen, Jones, Delacruz and Rosecrans investigations – civilians discovered the remains of yet another soldier: Pvt. Gregory Wedel-Morales.

Wedel-Morales was listed as absent without leave in August 2019 after he disappeared just days before he was scheduled to finish his career in the military.

Authorities have announced arrests in the Guillen, Rosecrans and Delacruz cases. The suspect in Jones' case will not be prosecuted because the case involved self-defense, according to Killeen police. Wedel-Morales' case is still under investigation, and no arrests have yet been made.

According to Fort Hood officials, nearly 40,000 soldiers currently serve on post.

But those counts do not include their families, veterans or civilian workers who also have access to the base daily. Those same soldiers often reside or utilize the city of Killeen located right outside Fort Hood’s gates, which nears 150,000 residents, Killeen Police Chief Charles Kimble said.

Contributing: Chuck Lindell, Austin-American Statesman

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chelsea Cheatham death: Fort Hood solider Cory Grafton arrested