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DNA analysis contributes to murder charges in 1993 killing of Tampa-area girl, authorities say – WSVN 7News | Miami News, Weather, Sports | Fort Lauderdale

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(CNN) — A Florida man has been charged with murder in the 1993 death of 12-year-old Jennifer Odom, a Tampa-area girl who had disappeared after getting off her school bus, authorities said Thursday.

A grand jury indicted Jeffrey Norman Crum, 61, on charges of murder, kidnapping and sexual battery in connection with Odom’s killing, Bill Gladson, state attorney for Florida’s 5th judicial circuit, said in a news conference.

Crum has been in prison since 2019, serving two life sentences for sexual battery in a separate case, according to state prison records. CNN has not been able to identify legal representation for him.

Investigators identified Crum as a suspect in Odom’s killing after noticing significant similarities between the circumstances of her death and the details of a separate case in which Crum was identified as a suspect through DNA analysis, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said.

Odom was abducted in February 1993 after stepping off her school bus in Pasco County north of Tampa, according to the sheriff’s office. Her body was found in a field six days later in neighboring Hernando County, and it appeared she had been brutally attacked, Nienhuis said.

“We’re not exactly sure how long her abductor kept her captive, or when exactly the murder took place, but we are relatively confident the murder took place in that field,” Nienhuis said.

Odom’s disappearance sparked a manhunt in which several law enforcement agencies in the Tampa area were searching for a blue truck that the child’s classmates saw as she walked away from the bus, the sheriff said.

“Dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds of items were tested and retested every time a new technology came out, thinking that little glimmer of hope that we might be able to get that smoking gun,” Nienhuis said.

A break in the case happened in 2015, when investigators used DNA analysis to narrow down Crum as a suspect in a different case that happened about 13 months before Odom’s killing, the sheriff said. In that case, a teenage girl was attacked and sexually assaulted after getting off a school bus in Pasco County. She was left for dead but survived, he said.

Investigators noticed the circumstances of the two attacks were “almost identical,” the sheriff said.

“So (Crum) quickly, quickly, almost instantaneously, became our number one suspect in the Jennifer Odom case,” Nienhuis said.

After identifying Crum as a suspect in Odom’s killing, investigators worked for years to gather enough evidence against Crum, ultimately presenting the case to the state attorney to pursue charges against him, Nienhuis said.

“I have confidence that we have the right person and that we have the right aggravators, in this particular case, to treat it as a death penalty case,” Gladson said Thursday.

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