Confusion over guns reason to dismiss Chattanooga attempted murder case, attorney says

Confusion over guns reason to dismiss Chattanooga attempted murder case, attorney says

August 25th, 2014 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

An attorney for a man charged with attempted murder says the case should be dropped because Chattanooga police didn't examine a collection of guns found near the crime scene.

Attorney Stevie Phillips filed a motion to dismiss the case two weeks ago on behalf of 25-year-old Cornelius Marquis Douglas. Last week, Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole said he would deliver his ruling Sept. 11. If Poole denies Phillips' request, the case is set for trial Oct. 28.

The victim, D'Andray Thomas, told Chattanooga police he was staying with friends on May 31, 2013, when someone knocked on the door. Thomas said he answered and walked outside, where Douglas shot him in the chest.

But after the shooting, according to Phillips' motion, investigators searched a garbage can behind the house. Inside a backpack, they found six handguns.

Phillips said investigators never sent those guns to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime lab for testing. The TBI should have checked the guns for fingerprints and ballistics, he said.

The crime lab's tests on Douglas' own gun were inconclusive, Phillips said, and evidence from these other guns could have exonerated him. Therefore, the charges should be dropped.

"It is highly likely that these guns were used during the shooting," Phillips wrote. "It is unknown whether they were used by the victim, the witnesses, or any number of other unnamed suspects."

Chattanooga police directed a request for comment to the district attorney's office, and prosecutor Cameron Williams said he cannot talk about a pending case.

If Poole denies Phillips' motion and the case goes to trial, previous hearings indicate that prosecutors will have to prove their case without help from Thomas.

At first, Thomas cooperated with investigators. Detective Karl Fields wrote in an affidavit that Thomas identified Phillips from a photograph the day after the shooting.

During a preliminary hearing a month later, Thomas described the shooting in detail.

He said Douglas knocked on his friends' door that night. He said they stood outside in silence for about 10 seconds. He said Douglas then pulled out a gun, shot him and stood over him.

"I'm just kicking, just kicking," Thomas said, according to a transcript. "I don't know what I'm kicking at. I'm just fighting for my life. And he was just steady, shooting. I'm seeing the bullets just go in the ground by my face. And I'm rolling over. And he shot me in the back. And I'm still rolling. And I'm still kicking."

But about a year later, at another pretrial hearing, Thomas changed his version of events. He told Williams he didn't know who shot him.

"Do you know the defendant?" the prosecutor asked Thomas.

"Who?"

"Cornelius Douglas."

"No."

"OK," Williams said. "Do you recall testifying at the preliminary hearing that you did know Cornelius Douglas?"

"I don't remember," Thomas said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6476.