Axios Nashville

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November 23, 2021

Happy Tuesday. Do you have all of your ingredients ready?

Today's newsletter is 674 words — a 2.5-minute read.

1 big thing: DA rejects another conviction

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk standing at a podium and speaking.
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 a 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.

2. Meharry's Thanksgiving surprise

Building on the Meharry Medical College campus.
Photo courtesy of Meharry Medical College

Meharry Medical College is using some of its COVID-19 relief funds to give each of its students $10,000 in time for Thanksgiving.

  • College president James Hildreth made the surprise announcement Monday, acknowledging the challenges the school's 956 students had faced during the pandemic.

What's happening: "We felt that there was no better way to begin distributing these funds than by giving to our students who will soon give so much to our world," Hildreth told students in a video message.

  • Hildreth encouraged students to put the money toward their education and training rather than "tempting" Black Friday sales, but the final decision is up to them.

What they're saying: Student Benson Joseph tells Axios he and his classmates greeted the news with waves of shock and celebration.

  • "We were all joyful," Joseph says. "It was nothing but pure elation."

Flashback: Meharry students formed the backbone of Nashville's early response to COVID-19. Volunteers from the historically Black college have staffed city-run testing sites.

3. The Setlist

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Gov. Bill Lee is leading the charge on a right-to-work amendment to the state constitution. (WPLN)

🧑‍⚖️ Eleven people have lined up to fill the vacancy on the Tennessee Supreme Court. (Nashville Post)

📈 A new report predicts Nashville's booming tech sector will keep growing. (Nashville Business Journal)

4. On the road again

Passengers waiting at an airport gate.
Passengers waiting at Nashville International Airport. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Thanksgiving travel is almost back to normal in Tennessee, according to AAA projections.

By the numbers: A vast majority are expected to travel by car, but AAA estimates more than 36,000 Tennesseans will fly out of town.

  • Nationwide, AAA expects some 53.4 million people will travel for Thanksgiving. That marks the biggest year-over-year increase the group has logged since 2005.

Be smart: Nashville International Airport expects to see a surge of holiday passengers starting Wednesday.

  • If you're flying out of BNA, officials recommend you arrive two hours early to allow time to get through security.

Nate is rewatching "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" in accordance with Thanksgiving week law.

Adam is listening to this fascinating interview with Adele.