published Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

Justice elusive for Eric Fluellen with murder charge dropped against suspect




Teddy bears sit at the site where Eric Fluellen's body was found on 13th Ave.
Teddy bears sit at the site where Eric Fluellen's body was found on 13th Ave.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

This time, there was a witness.

This time a shaky teenage boy stood before a judge and said he knew who the murderer was.

But it wasn't enough, as is so often the case in Chattanooga, where 58 percent of unsolved cases have witness problems and where since 2011 only two dozen people have faced prison time out of more than 300 shootings and murders.

Lee Antonio Clements Jr. -- known as Tone Tone -- will not be indicted in the death of 18-year-old Eric Fluellen, whose case was the subject of a nine-month Times Free Press investigation that showed how the inner city's code of silence was allowing killers to walk free.

Fluellen was shot dead -- execution style, multiple times through the head -- in March 2013. His best friend, Clements, was a suspect from the beginning.

In August, Clements was charged with murder after police were able to convince one witness to speak in court. The teen told investigators that Clements had confessed the killing to him. The only other evidence police had was a photo that proved Clements had been with Fluellen the night he was killed.

But details in the story the witness told in court differed from what he originally told police. So his testimony came under attack from the defense and the judge. Still, the case was sent to the grand jury.

Last week the Hamilton County grand jury chose not to indict Clements on charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault and unlawful carrying of a weapon.

Clements is still in jail on other drug and weapons charges. However, with the homicide charge now dropped, he can go free by paying 10 percent of a $22,500 bond.

Clements' attorney, Garth Best, could not be reached for comment for this report.

Authorities have identified Clements as a leading member of the Gangster Disciples, and his gang has bragged about his getting out soon.

He has said he didn't kill Fluellen. He has also boasted on social media that he threatened witnesses in the case.

There are other witnesses who could come forward, but police say all have refused to participate in the justice system.

Chris Blackwell, the Chattanooga Police Department investigator on Fluellen's case, said he knew the no-bill from the grand jury was coming, and he wasn't surprised.

"We were afraid it would go to trial and make him not guilty. Then we couldn't try him again," Blackwell said Friday. "We don't have enough to convict him, except for one witness."

Blackwell wouldn't say whether the lone witness pulled out, but he did say the teen wasn't trustworthy.

Still, Blackwell promised to keep digging.

Fluellen's mother, Shonda Mason, learned of the news Friday and said she was mad and frustrated.

She continues to be angered by what she says is the lack of evidence collected by police and the lack of cooperation from the community.

For years she had believed that blacks shouldn't talk to police, but when her son was killed she was forced to rely on them for help. She still isn't sure whether cooperating makes any difference.

What happened in Fluellen's case is emblematic, she said: Violence in Chattanooga will never stop until witnesses start talking.

"Somebody else's momma is going to have to go through this stuff because this stuff ain't going to stop."

Contact staff writer Joan Garrett McClane at jmcclane@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6601.

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