A man convicted of murder 19 years ago deserves a new trial, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.
Edward Thomas Kendrick III may not have received such a harsh punishment -- first-degree premeditated murder -- had his lawyer been better, Judge Jeffrey Bivins said.
In March 1994, according to court records, Kendrick loaded his 4-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son into the back seat of his car and drove to a BP Oil Store on Lee Highway in Chttanooga. He told his wife, Lisa, a cashier at the shop, to come outside.
There, he pulled a rifle out of the floorboard of his car and fired one bullet into her chest. She died at the scene.
Kendrick said that the shot was an accident, that he was moving the rifle from the front of his car to the back. He said his wife asked him to do that.
But even though Kendrick claimed he didn't try to shoot his wife, his lawyer did not call for an expert witness to talk about the type of rifle used, a Remington Model 7400 30.06. The lawyer should have done that, the Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.
Later, during a post-conviction hearing in 1998, a gunsmith named Henry Belk testified that the rifle could have gone off unintentionally. Sometimes, Belk testified, the gun fires even if the safety is on and no one grazes the trigger.
Also, at the scene of the crime, Chattanooga police Sgt. Steve Miller, accidentally shot himself while handling the gun, according to court documents. At the time, he said his finger was not near the trigger.
Miller's statements could have been hearsay, the court acknowledged. He may not have remembered the events correctly, seeing that he just got shot. But, the Court of Appeals said Thursday, Kendrick's lawyer should have asked others at the scene to back up what Miller said happened.
"We reverse the judgment of the post-conviction court, vacate the Petitioner's [Kendrick's] conviction, and remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion," Bivins wrote Thursday.