Chattanooga businessman posts bond for Angel Bumpass during Thursday hearing

Angel Bumpass

A Chattanooga businessman who has been following the Angel Bumpass murder case volunteered to pay the required 10% of her $100,000 bond set during a hearing Thursday at Hamilton County Criminal Court.

"I've followed the case," Kenneth Adams said in open court, when asked why he was posting bond for someone he didn't know. "In my heart, I feel there's a chance she might be innocent."

Bumpass was tried and convicted in 2019, when she was 24 years old, in connection with the 2009 death of Franklin Bonner, 68. Bumpass was 13 at the time of Bonner's death. Her case has been the subject of a docuseries and a true crime podcast.

Earlier this year, a Hamilton County Criminal Court judge granted Bumpass a new trial.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Amanda Dunn decided Thursday that Bumpass could be released on bond, with a GPS monitor and supervision, pending the new trial. Bumpass was expected to be released Thursday night.

The crime

Bonner was found by his wife, Linda Bonner, in their Washington Hills home on Jan. 16, 2009, duct taped to a kitchen table and chair, with their home ransacked. Bonner was bound by his feet, arms, legs, nose and mouth. A Hamilton County medical examiner later ruled his death a homicide by suffocation.

Bonner's case had gone cold for a decade before it was revisited by former Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston, who took a second look at the urging of Bonner's family on the anniversary of his death. The revisited investigation linked both Bumpass and Mallory Vaughn, who was 26 at the time of the homicide, to Bonner.

Then-Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz presided over the trials of Bumpass and Vaughn, which resulted in the acquittal of Vaughn on all charges.

Bumpass was convicted but has drawn a national following since then among supporters who do not believe she was physically capable of the crime -- given her age and build and that of the victim -- or that the evidence supported conviction.

Unusual offer

Adams had been sitting in the gallery Thursday, along with a dozen other people, during the hearing in which testimony from Fran Pierce, the owner of Liberty Bonding Co., as well as Shirley Cordela Bumpass, Angel Bumpass' aunt, was heard. Pierce and Shirley Bumpass, who posted bond for Angel Bumpass for the first trial, had to testify at court as to where the money for the bond was coming from.

William Massey, the lead defense attorney representing Angel Bumpass, said he'd never seen anything like what happened Thursday.

"I have been practicing law for 41 years, and I have never seen someone from the audience step up and say, 'I'll make her bond,'" Massey told the Chattanooga Times Free Press after Thursday's hearing. "The first question I asked was, 'Who are you?' You know who he was, a guardian angel, that's who he was, a man who was concerned and doing what he thought was the right thing."

When Judge Dunn announced the new bond amount, Adams volunteered to pay the required 10%. Adams then presented financial records proving his funds were legitimate and legal and was allowed by the court to post the bond -- effectively clearing the way for Bumpass to walk out of prison by Thursday evening.

After testimony and arguments by the prosecution and the defense were heard, Dunn lowered the Bumpass' bond from the original $300,000, denying both a petition from the state to increase the bond to $600,000 and a request from the defense to allow Bumpass to be freed on her own recognizance.

Prosecutor Michael Dowd argued that because of the heinous nature of the crime, as well as the fact that Bumpass' fingerprints were found in two places on the duct tape used to restrain Bonner, that the bond be increased.

"Unless the defendant unrolled a dozen feet or more (of duct tape) and rolled it back together, there is no reason why her fingerprints should be in two separate places," Dowd said.

Dowd also said that Bumpass' ties to Kentucky, where her two children live, could also pose a flight risk.

"The same people who are vouching for her are the same people who could not stop her from committing this murder in the first place," Dowd said. "Now, we are supposed to believe them when they say that she will do what she's told and that everything is fine."

Dowd further stated to the court that mistakes were made by both the prosecution and the defense in the 2019 trial, and it is his job to prove that Bumpass committed the crime she was previously convicted of.

"The evidence met the bare minimum," Dunn said of the evidence presented in the original trial. "We cannot overlook the fingerprints."

Massey told the Times Free Press that he thought Dunn's decision in relation to bond was fair.

"I thought the law was in our favor, that the facts were in our favor, with the factors that the court is required to consider, so it was very helpful that she reduced the amount from the previous amount," Massey said. "I thought the reason she gave for doing so was very sound."

Bumpass is to be monitored by a probation officer, who will ensure she remains in Hamilton County during her trial. Bumpass will also be able to make short trips to Kentucky to visit her children but would need to inform her probation officer of the details of her trips. Any violations of the conditions would forfeit her bond, and she would go back into custody, according to the terms stated by Dunn.

Case recap

Also at Thursday's bond hearing, Massey recapped the case, including the partial testimony of Nicholas Cheaton, a witness at the 2019 trial who said it was Vaughn who admitted to killing someone.

"Vaughn said he messed up, that he duct taped someone like a mummy, and the dude didn't make it," Massey said.

Earlier this year, Bumpass was granted a new trial by Greenholtz.

In the original trial, Bumpass' grandfather Balis Smith testified that as a young girl Bumpass loved arts and crafts and would work on some projects that included duct tape in his garage. Further, he said he was a handyman who had been to Bonner's house -- and may have brought duct tape there with her fingerprints on it.

A jury nevertheless found Bumpass guilty of first-degree felony murder.

Bumpass was later sentenced to life in prison, being eligible for parole in 2079 at the age of 84. Bumpass had been serving her sentence in Nashville's Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center, formerly known as the Tennessee Prison for Women, since 2019.

Greenholtz's decision to grant her a new trial also overturned her sentence, making her eligible for a bond.

Bumpass' case has earned international attention. Massey previously told the Times Free Press that he has received letters of support for his client from all over the U.S. and Europe.

"I've been following this case, and it's just driving me crazy," Shelly Litchfield, a Maryland native and Chattanooga resident, told the Times Free Press. "They are looking at the little picture -- the two fingerprints. I'm looking at the big picture: A 13-year-old could not have committed this crime."

Litchfield had been advocating and protesting outside the courthouse since the 2019 trial and was at Thursday's hearing.

The case was featured in the 75th episode of the "Women and Crime" podcast as well as a May 12, 2020, episode of A&E's "Accused: Guilty or Innocent?" crime docuseries.

Bumpass is due to appear in court for a status hearing at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 17.

Contact La Shawn Pagán at or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.