Suspect in Lee County 2017 sex crime connected through DNA match

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Isaiah Pettiford,

A DNA match has brought the victim of a sex crime closer to justice.

Monday, Lee County Sheriff’s Office booked suspect Isaiah Pettiford, 24, for sexual involvement with teenager three years ago.

The survivor was 15 years old at the time and Pettiford was 20. She’s 18 now and wants law enforcement to pursue an investigation.

A survivor of sexual abuse told us coming forward is already difficult. Now that an arrest been made, he told us it makes coming forward worth it. He says he can help the teenager go from victim to survivor.

Pettiford’s warrant shows the victim went to a party near Gladiolus Boulevard and San Carlos Boulevard in 2017 when she was 15. The documents say the victim was pressured into drinking alcoholic beverages until she was drunk. She told investigators two men then forced themselves on her.

The documents say the victim did not want to go forward with a criminal investigation at the time because she thought police wouldn’t be able to find the suspects or evidence.

It’s a decision Aaron Averhart told us is very common after someone survives something like this. Averhart survived sexual abuse as a teenager at a camp in Charlotte County.

“There is a lot of mixed emotions. There is guilt. There’s a shame, and it definitely keeps you from wanting to publicize your story in any way, publicize your struggles,” Averhart said.

With a DNA match three years later, the victim is ready to pursue a criminal investigation.

“It shows a lot of strength and courage to come forward, and I wish I could’ve been able to do it in three years,” Averhart said.

Rich Kolko, WINK News Safety & Security Specialist, said, even though a rape kit collects DNA when a sexual crime happens, the suspect’s DNA would also need to already be in the system to make a match.

“It would have to take an interaction with law enforcement, trying to take a security clearance, joining the military, a variety of things,” Kolko explained.

Pettiford was arrested in Michigan and brought back to Lee County Monday, where he is in custody at Lee County Jail. He now faces a charge for lewd or lascivious battery of a victim aged 12 to 16.

“It is never too late to come forward, and it is probably one of the most liberating and life-saving things that you can do as a survivor,” Averhart said. “It really helps cement the status of survivor in a weird way.”

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