No charges yet in Kyle’s death

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Desheena Kyle (Photo provided by KPD)

 The three-month-long search for Desheena Kyle has officially ended in tragedy with the confirmation that a body found in a North Knox County house was the missing woman, authorities said Thursday. 

Although a full autopsy report won’t be finished for several months, forensic pathologists have identified the body as Kyle’s, according to Knoxville Police Department officials.

They also classified her death as a homicide but declined to say specifically how she was killed.

An estranged boyfriend of Kyle’s has been labeled as a “person of interest” in the case, but authorities haven’t formally accused him of involvement in her disappearance. 

“Charges have not yet been filed in relation to Desheena’s death and the investigation is continuing. Investigators are in consultation with the Knox County District Attorney’s Office regarding prosecution in the case,” said Knoxville Police Department spokesperson Scott Erland. 

The corpse was discovered Tuesday in a house in the 6900 block of Sam Tillery Road and taken to the Regional Forensic Center for an autopsy.

Erland declined to explain what caused investigators to focus on the house, saying only that they were looking into the young woman’s case at the time. He also didn’t say whether anyone was living in the house when her body was found.

“That search was conducted based on a lead that was developed through evidence compiled during the investigation into Desheena’s disappearance,” was all Erland said.

It’s been more than three months since Desheena was last seen by any of her friends or family members. The 26-year-old Knoxville woman last spoke to one of her relatives on June 14, and she was spotted at her Wilson Road apartment four days later.

Desheena, an aspiring fashion designer and graduate of Central High School, was reported missing on June 28.

Although no criminal charges have been filed in connection with Desheena’s disappearance as of today, one person in her life has drawn the scrutiny of investigators from the start: John Bassett, her boyfriend.  

Bassett, 29, has a lengthy history of drug-related arrests. He was charged with domestic assault in 2014 for allegedly hitting Desheena and then using a rock to break the window of her car while she was inside, trying to hide from him. 

The charge against him was later dismissed, court records show.

On July 7 — more than a week after she was reported missing — Bassett was taken into custody after a very public display of force in the Lonsdale community. Dozens of KPD officers, including crisis negotiators and the department’s SWAT team, surrounded Bassett’s house on Ohio Avenue. Officials said the house was empty when officers searched it, but Bassett was taken into custody later that evening and arrested for allegedly violating the terms of his probation for possessing cocaine with the intent to distribute.

He has been jailed without bond since then.

John Bassett Source: Knox County Sheriff’s Office

Kyle’s death marked the 35th homicide in Knoxville this year. There have been at least six other homicides in the unincorporated areas of Knox County under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office.

If the killings in Knoxville continue at their current pace, 2021 will be the city’s deadliest year on record by far.  

The unprecedented rise in the homicide rate began when the number of killings shot up from 22 in 2019 to 37 in 2020, a 72 percent increase. Prior to 2020, the bloodiest year on record had been when 35 people were killed in 1998.

Authorities repeatedly asked for the public’s help in finding Desheena, blanketing social media and making appeals through news outlets across East Tennessee over the following weeks. 

State and federal law enforcement agencies were brought in to help local authorities with the case, and KPD investigators “spent hundreds of hours searching various locations, interviewing possible witnesses, or individuals with pertinent information and following up on numerous leads,” said Erland.

Several of KPD’s specialist units are actively involved in the investigation, including the Organized Crime Unit, the Special Crimes Unit, the Violent Crimes Unit, and the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC).  

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on October 1, 2021.