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Innocence Project: Thomas Bruce might be serial killer responsible for 1985 murder in Tennessee

Barry Scheck, the co-founder of the Innocence Project, said they were working on a case when they got a chilling letter from law enforcement officials in St. Louis.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The man accused of murdering a woman and sexually assaulting two others in a Catholic Supply store might be responsible for the murder of a woman in Tennessee in 1985, the Innocence Project said in court Monday.

Thomas Bruce was charged with first-degree murder, three counts of sodomy, three counts of kidnapping, one count of burglary and multiple other crimes in connection with the Nov. 19, 2018, attack that left Jamie Schmidt dead.

Barry Scheck, the co-founder of the Innocence Project, said they were working on a case related to the 1985 death of 19-year-old Marine Cpl. Suzanne Collins near Memphis, Tennessee, when they got a "chilling" letter from law enforcement officials in St. Louis.

"Some investigators had been looking into [Bruce's] past and discovered he had been attending avionics training school in Millington, Tennessee, and had been attending classes during the same period of time as the victim in this case, Suzanne Collins," Scheck said in a press conference. "And there was some suspicion perhaps that he was a serial killer."

Sedley Alley was convicted of the 1985 murder. Collins had been out jogging when she was kidnapped, beaten, raped and mutilated. Alley confessed to the crime but later said the confession was coerced.

Alley was executed by lethal injection in 2006.

On Monday, April Alley — the daughter of the man put to death for the murder — was in court asking to order testing of DNA evidence in the case.

Alley's attorneys included Scheck, who told the court they filed the petition for DNA testing after law enforcement officers in St. Louis contacted him about a possible alternative suspect in Collins' murder.

"We got a letter from law enforcement officials in St. Louis that an individual named Thomas Bruce had been arrested for a vicious murder," he said in court.

He said investigators in St. Louis began looking into his past and found that he overlapped with Collins.

"They were saying to us — there's the possibility he is the serial killer that you had argued might be discovered with a DNA test all those years ago," Scheck said. 

Scheck argued that it was a matter of justice to test the DNA evidence, and the court has the power to order the testing.

"April Alley wants to know the truth. She has the courage to seek the truth. DNA testing can ... provide that truth," Scheck said.

Evidence they want tested includes a pair of men's underwear recovered at the scene. DNA testing of evidence was in early stages in the 1980s, and no DNA evidence has ever been tested in Sedley Alley's case.

Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Steve Jones argued the state's DNA analysis law allows only the person convicted of the crime to request testing.

He also argued that even if DNA from a third party were found on some of the evidence, it would not prove Sedley Alley was innocent. Alley was convicted based on "a combination of factors that corroborated his confession," Jones said.

April Alley was at the Monday hearing but declined to speak with reporters.

A spokesman for the district attorney's office said they are in touch with Collins' family, and the family has made no public statement on the DNA testing petition.

The judge says she'll decide by November 18th if the DNA can be tested.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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