Judge hears arguments as Paul Garrett tries to clear his 2,000 murder name
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (WTVF) – After years behind bars, Paul Shane Garrett could once and for all have his name cleared for a murder he says he didn’t commit.
Garrett pleaded guilty to the intentional homicide of Velma Tharpe in 2000, but maintained that he did not kill Tharpe. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents now say DNA evidence points to a Calvin Atchison, who was arrested in May.
We never saw much emotion from Garrett, during Thursday’s hearing, other than a time when it looked like he couldn’t believe he had come this far. He was released from prison in 2011, around the same time that TBI officer Laura Boos received more evidence of Tharpe’s case.
GARRETT’S DNA WAS NOT FOUND ON THE VICTIM:
She said several key pieces of evidence were never offered to her for testing until 2011. Tharpe’s shorts were among the articles where she says she found a man’s DNA, but it was not a match for Garrett. Boos said there were seven spots on the shorts and she now had the Atchisonian DNA sample. It was a match.
Boos went on to say that no evidence she had tested could trace back to Garrett. Which is a far cry from the story investigators told Garrett during the several hours of interviews. Metro Nashville Police Detective Mike Roland watched all the interviews and said that at one point investigators lied about the discovery of Garrett’s DNA on Tharpe’s body.
He says that in all of the recorded interviews, Garrett has never admitted to killing Tharpe. Investigators at the time say Garrett confessed, but only in an interview that was not taped.
Roland said the same investigators, including Detective Roy Dunaway, convinced Garrett to strike a plea deal and avoid the death penalty.
DNA DIFFERENCE PROVIDED TO DA IN 2011
Jessica Van Dyke is Senior Counsel for the Tennessee Innocence Project and has represented Garrett. She called it a travesty that it took so long for the state to recognize that the wrong man served time for such a heinous crime.
“It took 20 years to get results in this business. What we now know, Your Honor, is that Mr. Garrett’s DNA is nowhere at the crime scene, on the victim’s body and the most relevant samples, in this case, are without equivocation related to a completely different person, ”said Van Dyke.
Atchison is in custody while awaiting trial. Judge Angelita Dalton has said she will have a written decision soon, which could include setting aside Garrett’s guilty verdict. That would pave the way for a new trial if the state chooses to press charges against Garrett.
State attorney Sunny Eaton, who is part of the prosecutor’s office’s conviction review unit, ended his closing arguments by suggesting that his office should have acted sooner.
“It is inexcusable that after 2012 the prosecutor’s office, my office, continued to defend Mr. Garrett’s conviction despite evidence showing clear and convincing support for his innocence,” Eaton said.
Eaton asked Roland if he believed Garrett had been wrongly convicted, to which he replied “yes”. Roland also agreed that at no point was there any evidence to suggest someone else was involved.
At the end of the hearing, Van Dyke asked Garrett if he had anything to do with Velma Tharpe’s death. Garrett quickly responded, “No, I didn’t.”
STOP A NEW SUSPECT:
Metro Nashville SWAT agents arrested Calvin Atchison, 51, for the Tharpe murder on May 25, 2021.
In 2011, Cold Case sleuth Mike Roland and Pat Postiglione stumbled upon the DNA match with DNA found on Tharpe while investigating a series of unsolved murders. After doing some research, the two longtime detectives were convinced that Garrett was innocent and Atchison was the killer.
MORE: “It was the right thing to do.” Metro detective brings killer to justice 21 years later
They took their findings and shared their concerns with the district attorney’s office, which conducted its own investigation. Then-ADA Kathy Morante urged then-prosecutor Torry Johnson to exonerate Garrett. But Johnson said that while he no longer had confidence in Garrett’s conviction, his office argued that Garrett had agreed to plead guilty and had fought to exonerate Garrett.
In 2020, Detective Roland asked the prosecutor’s new conviction review unit to review the case. Their investigation found convincing evidence that Garrett did not commit the murder and Atchison did. DA Glenn Funk asked the court to overturn or overturn Garrett’s conviction and presented the case against Atchison to the grand jury which led to his arrest.