A Grundy County, Tenn., man convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison could get a bond set today after a successful appeal and a second chance at freedom.
For Adam Clyde Braseel's family, the order for a new trial issued by Circuit Judge Justin Angel was a "gift" on Christmas Day. The bond hearing today will be in Rhea County, where Angel is holding court for the day.
"We're beyond words," Braseel's sister Brenda Little said Wednesday.
"I'm so excited. We're just in awe and thanking God and the new judge in Grundy County, Judge Angel," Little said. "He really is an angel."
Braseel was a 21-year-old who lived on a family farm in Grundy's Pelham Valley at the time of the crime on Jan. 7, 2006. A jury convicted him 22 months later of killing Malcolm Burrows and assaulting Rebecca Hill. Hill died in the years since the conviction.
Christina Braseel, another of Adam Braseel's three sisters, took up the campaign for her brother's freedom the day of his conviction in November 2007.
In the wake of the jury's verdict, Christina Braseel began poring over court transcripts "so I would know what to tell people about why I know he's innocent," she said. "There were discrepancies. It was embarrassing how bad it was."
The sisters established websites and a Facebook page calling for their brother's exoneration and freedom, Christina Braseel said. Support has come from as far away as Canada, she said.
When family members relayed the news to Adam Braseel on Christmas Day, "he was kind of speechless, and I could feel his smile through the phone," Christina Braseel said.
"He said, 'Are you serious?' And I said, 'I'm serious, Adam.' And he said, 'I'm coming home?' And I was like, 'Hopefully, soon. We've got to wait on a bond,'" she said.
In his Dec. 25, 2015, ruling, Angel granted relief from conviction or sentence, voiding Braseel's convictions and ordering a new trial.
Angel concluded that Braseel's "allegation that he did not receive effective assistance of counsel at the jury trial was supported by clear and convincing evidence at the post-conviction hearing" held in November.
Angel states he "placed emphasis on the credibility and sufficiency of the identifications testified to at trial. Again, no other evidence, DNA or other, links [Braseel] to the crimes. The jury clearly relied on the identification of [Braseel] by Rebecca Hill and Kirk Braden."
During the trial, Hill actually identified another person from a lineup, and Braden identified Braseel from a single-photo lineup, according to Angel. A single-photo lineup has been ruled unconstitutional in other cases and Braseel's trial lawyers failed in 2007 to move to suppress either lineup, Angel noted.
Twelfth Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Steve Strain was the prosecutor in the 2007 trial.
"We disagree with the court's ruling and we have filed a notice of appeal" to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, Strain said. He declined to comment further.
District Attorney General Mike Taylor said the state's appeal will have no impact on Friday's bond hearing or whether Braseel can post bond and remain free until the state's appeal is ruled upon or a new trial set.
Braseel's lawyer, Knoxville-based Doug Trant, said the state's appeal was expected and he agreed the appeal would have no effect on the bond hearing. Braseel's bond in 2007 had been set at $150,000.
Trant has worked on the case for the past five years and said he was "pleased" with Angel's ruling.
Depending on the result from the state's appeal, "whoever loses there can ask the Supreme Court for an appeal," Trant said.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at [email protected] or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.