Black hoodie now at center of Cortez Sims murder trial

Cortez Sims

A black hoodie is now at the center of a 2015 murder case in Chattanooga that could be tried in a different county.

In a motion filed Thursday in Hamilton County Criminal Court, attorney Brandy Spurgin argued that a black hoodie shouldn't be included as evidence against Cortez Sims, whose trial is set for Sept. 27, because authorities never proved it belonged to him.

According to a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report, forensic specialists found gunshot residue on the garment. That means the hoodie "was near a gun when it was fired, came in contact with a recently fired gun, and/or recently fired ammunition components," Spurgin's motion states.

The case stems back to Jan. 7, 2015, when police say Sims, then 17, burst into a College Hill Courts apartment around 1 a.m. and opened fire on four people. The gunfire killed one and wounded three others, including 2-year-old Zoey Duncan, who is now paralyzed from the waist down.

A few days later, Sims was arrested in an apartment in Knoxville. There police recovered several items that were sent to the TBI, including "swabs, samples, ballistics evidence and clothing, which included a shirt and hoodie," identified as belonging to Cortez Sims, spokesman Josh DeVine said.

Spurgin argued the black hoodie was collected three days after the shooting, and one day after the arrest. But authorities never provided an explanation for the "delay in the collection of the hoodie," she wrote, or conclusively proved it belonged to Sims. Rather, someone identified the hoodie as his.

A spokeswoman for the county district attorney's office said prosecutors cannot comment on a pending case but plan to respond to Spurgin's motions in the next few weeks.

Spurgin also filed a motion asking for a change of venue or, failing that, sequestration of the jury to ensure a fair trial. Nearly two weeks ago, Bianca Horton, one of the three people injured in the shooting and mother to Zoey Duncan, was found dead in the 2100 block of Elder Street, sparking increased media attention.

"Much of the publicity has stated that Bianca Horton was murdered in retaliation for testimony against the defendant," Spurgin's motion states, adding that several people, including Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, have released statements.

Since the reports come three months before the trial, "the defendant believes that it is unlikely he can receive a fair trial in this county due to the undue excitement and media publicity," the motion states.

Spurgin said Friday she could not comment beyond the motions, which attorneys will debate July 21 before Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at 423-757-6347 or Follow @zackpeterson918.