A woman's push along with her attorneys for a new trial after being convicted in the 2009 homicide of a Chattanooga man will be featured this week in a crime documentary series airing on A&E.
The follow-up to the May 2020 episode of the crime docuseries "Accused: Guilty or Innocent?" focusing on the high-profile case will follow Angel Bumpass' defense team, Memphis attorneys William Massey and Seth Segraves, as they request a retrial. The episode will air at 9 p.m. Thursday.
"We hope that people watch this episode and understand a little bit of how Angel's criminal appeal worked," Xander Brinkworth, creative director for series producer Brinkworth TV, said in an email Monday. "So much of what we see and hear around crimes and convictions is dramatized or delivered for effect, so it is essential to show this is actually how appeals work and what they mean."
Bumpass was 24 when she was found guilty by a jury of first-degree felony murder in the death of 68-year-old Franklin Bonner, who had been dead for almost 10 years when the case was reopened in 2018 after his family contacted the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office.
Bonner was found lying on the floor, bound to a kitchen table and chair in his Washington Hills home by his wife. He had duct tape around his feet, arms, head, nose and mouth. A Hamilton County medical examiner later determined Bonner died of suffocation and ruled the death a homicide. Two of Bumpass' fingerprints were found on the duct tape.
She was 13 at the time of Bonner's death. In the original trial, her 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.
Bumpass' co-defendant, Mallory Vaughn -- who could not be physically placed at the crime scene -- was acquitted on all charges.
"For many, her guilty verdict was a miscarriage of justice -- especially in light of the verdict of innocent returned for Mallory Vaughn," Brinkworth said. "In 'Accused: Guilty or Innocent?' we try not to take a stance around whether or not a verdict is fair or not -- we try to be as neutral as we can be within the specific perspective of the show (following the defense)."
Bumpass was three years into a life sentence at the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center, formerly known as the Tennessee Prison for Women, when she was granted a new trial last year by former Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz. She was released on bond in November.
Brinkworth said the follow-up episode was made to satisfy the audience's need to know more about the case.
"In Angel's case, it was clear that our audience wanted to know more about her, about why it had happened, and about whether there would be remedial measures taken to rectify what many perceived to be an injustice," Brinkworth said. "When you have the opportunity to engage with a large audience about the practical realities of illustrating how the criminal appeals process works, you have to take that opportunity, and Angel, her family, her attorneys and the courts were fantastic in helping us deliver that to screen."
The episode will feature audio interviews with Bumpass while incarcerated, as well as snippets of her life since being free on bond.
"The justice system is as good as the laws we have, the people who work in it and the jurors who decide the verdict," Brinkworth said, "so hopefully people will watch an episode like this and feel a little bit more ready to step into a jury box."
The Bumpass case was featured in the 75th episode of the "Women and Crime" podcast and was the subject of a signature drive on change.org by 875,000 people, many of whom did not think she was capable of the killing at such a young age.
A status hearing for Bumpass is set before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Amanda Dunn on March 29.