published Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Murder charge to be dropped in 2012 death

Prosecutors are dropping murder and robbery charges against a 35-year-old Chattanooga man after DNA taken from bloody clothing was linked to another man.

Hamilton County prosecutor Cameron Williams filed a motion to dismiss without prejudice charges of first-degree murder, attempted especially aggravated robbery and possession of a firearm by a felon against Shermaine Latwon Menifee , who had been charged in the October 2012 shooting death of Leslie Townsend.

Menifee's trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday in Hamilton County Criminal Court.

Williams wouldn't comment on the case except to say that the Townsend investigation is "open and ongoing."

Shortly after the Oct. 8, 2012 crime police said that Townsend was seated in a car in his mother's driveway at 2302 E. 14th St. shortly after 11 p.m. when he was shot at close range.

In his motion to dismiss, Williams wrote that "the only evidence linking (Menifee) to the crime is the statement and testimony of Justin Thurman."

Thurman, 24, is in custody on a recent, unrelated charge of aggravated robbery and probation violation, according to court documents.

Both Menifee and Townsend were documented gang members, according to Times Free Press archives. Menifee was a Tre 07 Underworld Crip and Townsend was a Gangster Disciple.

Menifee's attorney, Kevin Loper, had filed a request for a speedy trial in March. But in a July hearing, Williams asked for more time to receive DNA evidence from the state crime laboratory, according to court documents.

Loper said that his client has always maintained he did not kill Townsend.

"When (Menifee) heard he was a suspect he turned himself in to clear his name immediately," Loper said.

Loper doubted Thurman's testimony in the preliminary hearing.

Thurman testified that he'd gone with Menifee to buy marijuana from Townsend and that Menifee killed Townsend. He then said that Menifee told him to get rid of some clothing, Loper said.

The clothing was tested for DNA, but Thurman was the only match, Loper said.

"In my opinion (Thurman's) testimony was impeachable and inconsistent," Loper said.

Even after the DNA evidence matched Thurman, Loper said Williams wanted to hold Menifee on a probation violation on the charges. Instead Menifee was freed on his own recognizance in September.

Menifee has a criminal history of 60 charges dating back to 1996. The charges range from driving violations to aggravated assault and robbery convictions.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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