Nov 23, 2021 - News

Nashville DA rejects another conviction

District Attorney Glenn Funk stands at a podium wearing a blue suit and red tie.

District Attorney Glenn Funk. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP Photo

For the second time this month, the Nashville district attorney's office is rejecting a decades-old murder case.

  • After reviewing the evidence against defendant Claude Garrett, who has served nearly 30 years for a 1992 murder, a team of prosecutors said in a new report that it was "wholly impossible to maintain confidence in Garrett's conviction."

Why it matters: The Garrett case is the latest example of the power held by Nashville's conviction review unit, which District Attorney Glenn Funk launched in 2017.

  • The unit has repeatedly identified — and sought to remedy — mistakes made by previous prosecutors.
  • Earlier this month, the unit recommended exonerating two people convicted for a 1987 rape and murder.

Driving the news: Garrett was charged with murder after investigators said he started the house fire that killed his girlfriend, Lorie Lance, in 1992.

  • Garrett was convicted in 1993. After his first trial was overturned for unrelated issues, he was convicted again in 2003.

Yes, but: Garrett's attorneys say key evidence against him was based on "junk science."

  • The conviction review unit poked holes in the evidence in its own 51-page report.

The details: Garrett's conviction relied on analysis from a fire investigator who identified burn patterns in the house consistent with arson.

  • But years later, experts began to embrace new research showing some fires could mimic those burn patterns without being arson.
  • That research has "formed the basis for overturning numerous arson convictions in similar cases," the conviction review unit wrote in its report.

Between the lines: The Intercept has reported extensively since 2015 on Garrett's case, pointing toward many of the same issues identified by his defense attorneys and the conviction review unit.

The bottom line: The unit's report stated that while the new information did not conclusively establish Garrett's innocence, it shed enough doubt on his guilt to justify vacating the conviction.

What's next: Garrett's legal team, which includes the Tennessee Innocence Project and the federal public defender's office, filed a motion Monday to toss out the conviction.

  • In a simultaneous filing, Funk notified the court that he supported the move.

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