Procedures blamed for delayed arrests in Chattanooga rape cases

Procedures blamed for delayed arrests in Chattanooga rape cases

September 18th, 2011 by Beth Burger in News

Larry Vaughn

Larry Vaughn


Evidence in Derrick Jones case

• Aug. 15, 2010: A woman reports waking up to a masked man attacking her.

• Feb. 3, 2011: DNA evidence is submitted to TBI

• March 14, 2011: Final report is issued by a TBI forensic scientist

• May 10, 2011: Evidence is picked up by the Chattanooga Police Department. (Lab results are not attached to the evidence.)

• Sept. 6, 2011: Jones is charged with aggravated rape after a detective views the lab results online.

• Sept. 7, 2011: Jones is taken into custody.


• Sept. 9, 2010: A 12-year-old girl is abducted on her way to school and attacked.

• Feb. 3, 2011: Evidence is submitted to TBI.

• May 2, 2011: Final report is issued by a TBI forensic scientist.

(No note is attached to the file showing evidence was picked up by Chattanooga police.)

• Aug. 23, 2011: Two counts of child rape against Vaughn are issued in a warrant.

• Sept. 9, 2011: Vaughn is taken into custody.

Source: TBI lab records cited by Kristin Helm, a TBI spokeswoman



Jones, 22, is accused of raping a woman in her apartment. His next court date is set for Tuesday in General Sessions Court Judge Clarence Shattuck's courtroom. Jones remains in jail on a $1 million bond.


Vaughn, 45, is accused of raping a girl on Sept. 9, 2010. Since that incident, he was also arrested on Nov. 3, 2010, on charges of aggravated burglary, theft and criminal conspiracy. He was convicted of the aggravated burglary charge and the other charges were dropped. He was given a four-year suspended sentence.

Vaughn's next court date for two charges of child rape is scheduled for Monday before General Sessions Court Judge Ron Durby. He remains in jail on a $400,000 bond.


The TBI crime lab worked 51,116 cases in 2010 on 79,588 pieces of evidence and conducted 315,602 tests for law enforcement agencies across the state.

Chattanooga police say a change in procedure involving evidence processed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation contributed to months of delays in arresting suspects in two separate rapes, one involving a 12-year-old girl.

But information provided by the TBI indicates that Chattanooga police had access to the completed lab results for nearly six months in one case and four months in the other before they made an arrest.

TBI used to send a notification letter to local police departments when lab results were completed. Now the results are made available by computer, and the TBI says it's up to local law enforcement to be on top of that.

With the new online system, there is no notification via email or text sent to law enforcement agencies, according to investigators.

Kristin Helm, a spokeswoman for TBI, said the transition was made from paper to an online system back in January 2010 and that every department and prosecutor's office statewide was advised of the change.

"Letters were sent to every chief, sheriff and district attorney in the state," Helm said.

Detectives often get swamped with new cases and don't always remember to check on lab results from cases dating back months.

"We just have to remember to go in there and check," said Chattanooga police Sgt. Bill Phillips, who oversees the homicide unit.

His unit has already worked 20 homicides this year and numerous shootings.

"We're doing the best we can right now," Phillips said.

There should be some kind of notification system in place from TBI to alert detectives that results are back, Phillips said.

Without that, there could be delays in other cases as well, he said.

The Two Cases

On Sept. 9, 2010, a 12-year-old girl was on her way to school when she was lured to a residence by a man promising her candy. He promised to take her to school. She never made it. Once she was inside the home, he raped her twice.

Larry Vaughn, known in the neighborhood as the "Candy Man," denied the allegation when confronted by investigators and consented to give his DNA.

TBI said it received the evidence in February and completed the DNA work in May. Four months elapsed before Chattanooga police realized the results were in. Vaughn was taken into custody one year to the day after the girl had been attacked.

When initially questioned about why Vaughn's arrest took a year, Chattanooga police Sgt. Jerri Weary said investigators were awaiting lab results.

The same problem with evidence also occurred in a second Chattanooga rape case.

On Aug. 15, 2010, a masked intruder entered a woman's home while she was sleeping and raped her multiple times.

He left behind his cell phone, which contained pictures of him and his mother. By January, police had him identified as Derrick L. Jones. Jones denied the allegations and consented giving his DNA. TBI completed the DNA work in March, but it wasn't until nearly six months later that he was arrested.

System Needed?

Helm said the switch to an online system to look up lab results was done to save mailing costs and to be more efficient in disseminating those results to prosecutors and detectives across the state.

iResults is operated by JusticeTrax, a forensic case management software manufacturer based in Mesa, Ariz.

"After having iResults in place for nearly two years, the majority of agencies are familiar with the new technology with few complaints. TBI is hopeful that in the next software upgrade to the system, an email notification system will be available and put in place," Helm said in an email. "But for now, we encourage investigators to check the system periodically to see when reports are issued on evidence they have submitted for their open cases."

At the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office employees in the property division help keep track of pending lab results at TBI.

Helm recommended that departments establish a system for keeping track of evidence.

"Our suggestion for an agency who can't remember what they submit as evidence is to make a list and check iResults periodically. Some law enforcement agencies have a system in place for checking on evidence either weekly or daily, much like people check their email regularly," Helm said in an email.

Bearing the Burden

Whether it's TBI sending out emails or detectives checking online, a local expert in domestic violence and rape said it shouldn't be up to the victim to remind detectives to check the results.

Historically, victims have been burdened to prove they were raped. This issue could prove to be a burden now.

"The burden of the investigation lies with the officers. The burden of prosecution lies with the district attorney's office, and the victim should be able to move forward without having to bear that burden," said Charlotte Boatwright, president of Domestic Violence Coalition of Greater Chattanooga. "It's being done other places. It can be done here."