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'It feels like I got a new life' | Charlotte cold case revisited 27 years later

A woman said she was raped and shot in the head in 1992. Decades later, she believes she finally got justice.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A woman who said she was raped and shot in the head is getting justice decades later, thanks to the Cold Case Unit at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

It's a case almost 30 years in the making.

WCNC doesn't normally reveal the name of women who say they were sexually assaulted, but in this case – she wanted to tell her story of survival and long-awaited justice.

Cherry Gladden has had the same nightmare for decades. 

“Every year in January for the last 27 years, I relived that night for 27 years," she said. "He raped me, he shot me.”

She was just 31 when an acquaintance brought her home after a night out at a Charlotte bar -- then she said he attacked.

“He raped me then he shot me – I saw the bullet hit my eye – blood was everywhere- in my nose, mouth," Gladden said. "Something just told me, say Cherry, just lay still.' He put his pants up – zipped his pants up and he left.”

She was unconscious for four days. 

By the time she woke up, her attacker had vanished.

That night is something she’s re-lived over and over, until now.

“I got justice," she said. "I’m alive, I’m here.”

Regina Pack and Kristen Northup were the prosecutors on Gladden's case.

Pack said the big break came because of DNA and an unrelated arrest.

“In 1992 when the case first happened, the kit was processed for body fluids," Pack said. "At that point, they did determine semen was present.”

That kit sat on the shelf at CMPD until 2016, when they got a hit in what’s called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) -- a national DNA database.

The DNA was from Billy Joe Henry, who’d just been arrested for robbery in Hickory.

Regina Pack said she was anxious to get justice in this case, saying, “27 years is an awfully long time.”

Both prosecutors said it helped that they not only had DNA that had been found and reserved but a lot of other physical evidence. 

Credit: WCNC

“In this case, not only was the sexual assault kit preserved," Northup said. "CMPD saved the bullet casing that was located in her bed, they saved the pillowcase that had her blood on it where she was shot in the face, as well as her clothing items.”

They also had Gladden, who said she remembered everything.

“He told me to get in the bed and he raped me," Gladden said. "He forcibly raped me, and after he raped me he shot me. I said, 'If you kill me, they gonna find you and they gonna hunt you and sooner or later they gonna catch you.'”

It was later, much later, but they did.

A jury convicted Henry on assault with a deadly weapon and kidnapping – but couldn’t reach a verdict on the rape charges. Still, the 61-year-old got 40 years in prison.

Gladden said it was a huge relief, at last. 

“I got a new life," she said. "It feels like I got a new life – I got a second chance.”