For nearly 36 years, the person who stabbed 22-year-old Jacqueline Denise Henry to death walked free.
Last week, the family of the beloved Fresno mother finally got some closure. A 71-year-old registered sex offender was arrested on suspicion of killing Henry, after his DNA matched that of the probable killer.
Fresno Police Department officers responded on Feb. 24, 1987, to a report of a body found in a field at the corner of Church and Fig avenues. A deceased woman was found lying face-down with multiple stab wounds.
The woman was identified through her fingerprints as Henry, a Fresno resident and the mother of an infant boy. Henry had been reported missing three days prior and according to an autopsy report, she was killed three to five days before her body was discovered. She was most likely sexually assaulted and killed just outside the Pearly Grove Baptist Church before being dragged across the street and left in the field, according to authorities.
The case went cold after detectives couldn’t find any leads or suspects.
“At this time, back in 1987, there were no Ring cameras. There were no smartphones,” said Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama during a Tuesday news conference. “There was no ShotSpotter. There were no eyewitnesses. And DNA evidence was brand new. We had no leads to the cases and no witnesses. Although they worked extensively, they were not able to find the killer in this particular case.”
In March 2009, homicide detectives reopened the case and submitted evidence gathered in 1987 to the CAL-DNA data bank in the hopes a lead would emerge. In February 2022, the department received a letter from the state saying there was a probable DNA match to the suspected killer.
Detectives went back to the original evidence and also obtained a second sample of the suspect, which was an exact match.
On Friday, the day after what would’ve been Henry’s 59th birthday, Carl Eugene Sears, a registered sex offender, was arrested. Sears was on probation at the time of his arrest.
He was charged with first-degree murder with enhancements for felony murder for allegedly killing Henry while committing a sexual assault, according to Fresno County Dist. Atty. Lisa Smittcamp. He was also charged with weapons enhancements for allegedly using a knife.
Sears is being held at Fresno County Jail on more than $1 million bail. He appeared in court Monday for arraignment but his hearing was continued until Aug. 7 for the public defender to rule out any conflicts of interest.
Sears was convicted of several felonies between 1984 and 2002, according to Smittcamp. He was convicted of violating a child in 1980 in Los Angeles County and of committing an assault in Los Angeles in 1979.
During the Tuesday conference, Jean Whittle, Henry’s older sister, thanked the Fresno Police Department and everyone who worked on the case.
“Jacqueline was a beautiful child,” Whittle said. “Jacqueline was my baby. She would babysit for me. If it weren’t for her at the time — I was raising my children and trying to work, I couldn’t afford it, the childcare. Jacqueline is not just any person. Jacqueline was a very sweet person.”
Louis Goodman, who was 3 years old when his mother was killed, also expressed gratitude to the Fresno Police Department.
“We don’t really talk that much about my mom but when we do, it’s all good stuff,” he said.
Connie Meux, Henry’s sister, implored prosecutors to seek the death penalty, which is legal in California, but most often used in crimes of special circumstances, including murder.
“I’d like to ask that he gets the death penalty and not just go to prison for life,” she said.