Angel Bumpass has murder case dismissed by Hamilton County judge

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton/ Lawyer William Massey hugs Angel Bumpass after her case was dismissed at the Hamilton County Courts Building on Tuesday, August 8, 2023.

Note: This story was updated at 4 p.m. to correct an error about who dismissed the case.

Angel Bumpass, who was convicted of murder for a killing that happened when she was 13, had her case dismissed Tuesday by Judge Amanda Dunn.

Bumpass was found guilty of first-degree premeditated murder in 2019, almost 10 years after the slaying of Franklin Bonner in his Washington Hills home. She was sentenced to life in prison but was granted a new trial and released from jail last year.

She had been the subject of a national movement among people who found her conviction unjust, saying she would not have been capable of the crime at that age.

"The motto of the Tennessee judiciary, which I don't speak Latin, but the English translation of it is, 'Let justice be done, though the sky may fall,'" Judge Dunn said.

"I am very grateful that I get to work with attorneys who believe that justice is the pursuit, always, and so with that being said, I will grant the motion to dismiss counts one and two, and this matter will be dismissed," she said.

District Attorney Coty Wamp said during the hearing that a conviction does not always equal justice.

"It is the state's role to seek out the truth," she said. "The state of Tennessee has never given up on this case."

The dismissal was without prejudice, meaning the District Attorney's Office can bring a case against Bumpass again.

Bumpass' attorney, William Massey, said he wasn't expecting the outcome for his client.

"We were getting ready to go to trial," Massey told members of the media outside the courtroom.

Massey previously told the Chattanooga Times Free Press "meaningful talks" to resolve the case were happening with the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office. Those talks, according to Massey, included the results of a polygraph test performed on Bumpass, which were submitted to the prosecution's office in the hopes of showing that his client had no involvement in Bonner's death, as Bumpass has maintained throughout the years.

Two polygraphs

Although not admissible in court, Massey submitted a second polygraph result performed by a law enforcement agency as requested by Wamp. Both results showed Bumpass passed the test, he said.

"Ms. Bumpass has continually and consistently maintained her innocence," Wamp said during her address to the court, adding that she had agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation look at the results, and they agreed that Bumpass passed the test.

Wamp said she took a look at the evidence and it showed Bumpass was not the only participant in Bonner's death.

"We know we have a missing suspect at this point — maybe more than one suspect. We know that there is at least one person responsible for this criminal offense who has not yet been located or identified as a suspect," Wamp said. "It is my opinion that we must refocus our efforts on identifying the individual who did this."

Wamp also said investigators spoke to Mallory Vaughn, the co-defendant acquitted in the 2019 murder trial, but he did not have any information to provide.

"Mr. Bonner's family should know that all parties involved have done their very, very best in their attempts to bring some type of closure and resolve to all of the people that loved Franklin Bonner so much," Wamp said. "The family and the friends of Franklin Bonner will never be made whole again because Mr. Bonner cannot be brought back.

"Franklin Bonner and his family deserve justice and they deserve answers. That is still, and will remain, the primary focus of the state of Tennessee through my office," Wamp said.

Bumpass is living with her two daughters in Kentucky.

"I'm just trying to rebuild my life back," she told members of the media after the hearing. "I'll move when I graduate from school."

Bumpass is studying to become an aesthetician. She thanked those who supported her.

"I feel happy and blessed," Bumpass said.

Duct tape

Bumpass, now 28, was tried and convicted in 2019 on first-degree murder charges and especially aggravated robbery in the 2009 death of Bonner, 68.

Linda Bonner found her husband on the kitchen floor, bound to a table and chair, on Jan. 16, 2009. He had duct tape around his feet, arms, head, nose and mouth. Hamilton County Chief Medical Examiner James Metcalfe ruled suffocation as his cause of death.

Bumpass and Vaughn, who was 26 at the time of Bonner's death, were identified as suspects almost 10 years later after the family asked prosecutors to take a second look at the case in 2018.

Bumpass, who had been arrested on a no-show for a speeding ticket, was a match to two partial fingerprints found on the sticky side of the duct tape used to restrain Bonner, according to court records. Vaughn was said to have lived a few blocks away from Bonner at the time of his death, according to court records.

Arts and crafts

During the 2019 trial, Bumpass' grandfather testified that she liked to do arts and crafts and often used duct tape. He said he did repairs at the Bonners' home.

Bumpass was tried with Vaughn in 2019, and she was found guilty after almost five hours of deliberations. The jury acquitted Vaughn of all charges because prosecutors could not present enough evidence to place him at the Bonner residence.

Vaughn was recently indicted on drug and weapons charges by a Hamilton County grand jury and is pending arraignment before a criminal court judge, scheduled for Oct. 12.

Bumpass was granted a new trial in September of last year by a Hamilton County Criminal Court judge after serving nearly four years at the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center in Nashville.

That made Bumpass eligible for bond. During her November bond hearing, a Chattanooga businessman posted the bond, saying he followed the case and believed she was innocent.

Bumpass' case has been the subject of two episodes of the A&E crime docuseries "Accused: Guilty or Innocent?" and was featured on the podcast "Women and Crime."

Contact La Shawn Pagán at or 423-757-6476.