A Dalton, Ga., man who has been in jail for six months on murder charges was released Thursday night, a week after a grand jury declined to indict him.
"I'm relieved it's over," said Bryan Dennington's grandmother, Joyce Williams.
The worst part, she said, was "just not knowing what was going to happen."
Dennington, 34, of Underwood Road, had been charged with felony murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery in the April death of William Wesley Vaughn, 28.
A Whitfield County grand jury chose not to indict Dennington on Oct. 29, but he remained in the county jail another week on child support charges, said Conasauga District Attorney Kermit McManus.
The district attorney said Dennington and Vaughn were good friends, but while riding in a car they got into an argument over a cell phone.
Dennington was in the front passenger seat, and Vaughn began to hit him from the back seat, McManus said.
"He hit him repeatedly in the back of the head and his face," McManus said.
Dennington pulled a knife and began stabbing toward the back seat to keep Vaughn away, McManus said.
Two other people in the vehicle said they didn't see what happened, he said.
The driver said she was turning right when she heard the other passenger yell that Vaughn was bleeding, McManus said. She told police she pulled over at a nearby Kangaroo convenience store.
"Neither one told us how the stabbing took place," McManus said. "What showed the real story was medical evidence."
Dennington acted in self-defense, he said, because the autopsy of the knife wound showed Vaughn was moving forward to attack him.
Georgia self-defense laws allow a person to use deadly force to defend one's self, McManus said.
A medical test also showed Vaughn had a 0.10 blood-alcohol level and methamphetamine and marijuana in his body, McManus said.
Vaughn's parents could not be reached for comment. Police said they recently had moved to Virginia.
But Dennington's family called the decision an "answer to prayer."
"God helped us through it," Williams said. "Nothing like this has ever happened in our family."
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...