Prosecutors dismiss murder charges against man in 2015 Chattanooga slaying

Prosecutors dismiss murder charges against man in 2015 Chattanooga slaying

January 23rd, 2018 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Prosecutors on Monday dismissed murder charges against a 29-year-old man in a 2015 slaying, saying they wouldn't be able to overcome his self-defense argument if the case went to trial this week as planned.

Cordarius Robinson's attorneys said the 29-year-old acted out of self-defense when he shot and killed Timothy Harris in his Olive Street driveway, and part of their strategy involved painting Harris, 47, as the first aggressor through his criminal record.

Though prosecutors initially fought that tactic, saying any mention of Harris' decades-old child rape and assault charges would hurt their case, they changed course after a judge ruled last week that defense attorneys could open the door.

"Based on that [defense argument] and the state's inability to rebut self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt, we are moving to dismiss," prosecutor Leslie Longshore said.

Cordarius Robinson

Cordarius Robinson

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The announcement came a day before Robinson was scheduled to stand trial in Hamilton County Criminal Court on charges of second-degree murder and employing a firearm during a dangerous felony. Judge Barry Steelman accepted the dismissal, and Robinson, who had been out on bond, walked out of the courtroom a free man. Before this slaying, he had no arrests in Hamilton County Criminal Court.

"Cordarius is obviously pleased with the outcome," said Hank Hill, one of his defense attorneys. "I think it proves that if you elect honest, competent people to positions of authority, like [Hamilton County District Attorney General] Neal Pinkston and Judge Barry Steelman, then appropriate outcomes come out."

Harris' family members were extremely disappointed, saying Monday that prosecutors used their brother's background as an excuse to drop the case. "There was no justice," said brother Ezra Harris. "We're not pleased with the results of it, but what can you do?"

In court, Longshore said "this is not a decision we made lightly, but after a careful assessment of the facts."

According to prior testimony, Robinson was driving with his girlfriend, Kiana Varnell, when she received a call that Harris had beat up her mother. This type of violence was routine throughout their 27-year marriage, Linda Harris recently testified. The estranged couple were living in separate homes but had gone out that night.

Because it often fell on Varnell and her sister to fix these situations, she and Robinson drove to Harris' home on Olive Street. But Varnell testified in January 2016 that Harris got angry and claimed everyone was lying. When Robinson got out of their vehicle, which was parked in the driveway, and suggested he and Varnell leave, Harris hopped in his white truck and rammed their front driver's-side door four times.

As they tried to pile into the car and go, Harris started beating up Robinson on the passenger side, Varnell testified. Prosecutors say Robinson then shot Harris eight times in the chest, arms and shoulder, and the couple drove off.

Defense attorneys said $10,000 worth of damage to Robinson's vehicle proved the incident.

"There was white paint on the black car that came from Mr. Harris' truck," Hill said. "The white paint came from the fourth time Mr. Harris attempted to ram the vehicle, which made the car turn a literal 150 degrees in the street."

In addition to citing that evidence, Longshore said some of the state's witnesses were neighbors who reported seeing different things, that Harris was very intoxicated and that medical proof never clearly established whether Harris was walking away.

"The proof will show the victim had been in a physical altercation [with his wife] and the proof will also show there was a history of violence between victim and wife, and this was known by family and probably the defendant," Longshore said.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.


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