CHICAGO — Police have arrested a suspect in the murder of 12-year-old Jahmeshia Conner, who was found strangled to death in 2009 two weeks after she was reported missing.
Rene Valentin-Matos, 47, was arrested in Minnesota after authorities connected him to the murder using DNA evidence, Supt. Garry McCarthy told reporters Wednesday.
Jahmeshia was last seen alive on Nov. 16, 2009 at an Englewood bus stop a few blocks from her aunt's home.
Her body was found, beaten and strangled in an alley in the 6400 block of South Marshfield Avenue on Nov. 30, two weeks after she had gone missing.
Police have described the murder as a cold case, and notified Jahmeshia's family of the arrest Wednesday morning, police said.
Police are charging Valentin-Matos with sexually assaulting a woman in the city's Pilsen neighborhood in 2011. In January, the Illinois State Police crime lab notified the Chicago Police Department DNA evidence collected in the 2011 attack matched DNA from Jahmeshia's 2009 case.
Valentin-Matos worked in the same church Jahmeshia attended and was living near her family when she was found dead. The 47-year-old admitted knowing Jahmeshia, police said, but declined to comment further.
Valentin-Matos was described as a "transient" with "no real background," other than traffic violations, said Lt. Ozzie Valdez, who heads the CPD's Area Central Detectives division.
After the DNA match came back in January, police launched a "world-wide search" for Valentin-Matos and tracked him to Cold Spring, Minn., within 48 hours, McCarthy said. Valentin-Matos, who had been working on a farm there, was arrested there by police but had fought extradition.
He arrived in Chicago Tuesday and is expected to appear in bond court on Thursday, police said.
At a news conference Wednesday, McCarthy did not elaborate on some of the circumstances of the girl's death, saying they did not want to jeopardize the pending case. Published reports at the time said police found her body about a day after she was killed, leaving questions as to where she was for the two weeks she went missing before her death.
At the time, critics also questioned how the case was initially pursued. Although McCarthy did not become the city's top cop until 2011, he said the 12-year-old's case did not change the way the CPD investigates missing children.
"Tender-age missings [cases], we go after like it could be the worst-case scenario and obviously in this case it was," McCarthy said. "If she was looked at as a runaway initially, it doesn't change the way we approached the case."
But McCarthy praised the "excellent" and "tireless" work of the department's cold case detectives.
"Because they left no stone unturned, a murderer and a rapist is off the streets, and a family has some measure of closure," McCarthy said.
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