Trial date set for lawsuit by wrongly convicted Grundy County man Adam Braseel

Staff File Photo by Ben Benton / Adam Braseel, freed Aug. 1, 2019, after being incarcerated for more than a decade for a crime he didn't commit, talks less than a week after he was released from prison about his life looking forward.
Staff File Photo by Ben Benton / Adam Braseel, freed Aug. 1, 2019, after being incarcerated for more than a decade for a crime he didn't commit, talks less than a week after he was released from prison about his life looking forward.

The civil rights lawsuit filed by Adam Braseel, who was convicted in Grundy County in a 2006 murder he didn't commit, has an April 2024 trial date in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.

Braseel, now 39, had been charged with first-degree murder, robbery and aggravated assault in the 2006 beating death of 60-year-old Tracy City resident Malcolm Burrows and the attack on his sister, Becky Hill, and her son, Kirk Braden. Hill and Braden have since died.

Braseel was convicted at trial in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison. He served 12 years before being freed in 2019 based on new evidence.

The 12-count civil rights lawsuit filed in November names the Grundy County government and the estate of deceased Sheriff Brent Myers, former Chief Deputy Lonnie Cleek, former Deputy Andrew West and retired Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent Larry Davis in their individual capacities, according to federal court documents.

In his suit filed Nov. 30, Braseel accuses the defendants of violating his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights through the fabrication, destruction, unlawful suppression of evidence, conspiracy to deprive Braseel of his rights, intentionally inflicted emotional distress and pursuing a malicious prosecution of Braseel's case. Braseel's suit seeks unspecified damages.

(READ MORE: 'The truth is out there,' says freed man asking Gov. Lee to clear name)

Braseel contends in his suit that investigators used flawed and unreliable eyewitness identification; unlawfully arrested him without evidence other than faulty witness identifications; failed to investigate other witness reports of possible suspects; suppressed or destroyed case evidence; fabricated evidence of a "missing wallet" that was later found; manipulated descriptions of the suspect vehicle; fabricated evidence of one of the victims knowing the attacker; and prosecuted Braseel maliciously, lawsuit documents state.

In their Jan. 27 answer to Braseel's suit, the defendants denied any wrongdoing in the investigation.

(READ MORE: Grundy man freed in 2019 after 12 years in prison on a murder conviction seeks clemency on lesser charge)


Background

Braseel's case was on an up-and-down legal trail for more than a decade starting when Grundy County deputies responded Jan. 7, 2006, to Melissa Rock Road and found Burrows next to a car about 200 yards from his residence, archives show. His sister, Hill, had been beaten and sustained severe head wounds.

Braseel, who had no criminal history or connection to the Burrows family, was charged in the slaying by the Grundy County Sheriff's Department and TBI. In November 2007, Braseel was found guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder, especially aggravated robbery, attempt to commit first-degree murder, aggravated assault and assault, according to court records.

A 2011 appeal was denied. But in 2015 Braseel's convictions were vacated and he was granted a new trial in a ruling Dec. 25, 2015, by Circuit Court Judge Justin Angel. Angel ruled at the time that Braseel didn't receive effective legal counsel in the case resulting in a failure to challenge questionable evidence in the case, including a photo lineup that led to Braseel being identified as the murder suspect.

But after Braseel was free for less than a year, the Tennessee Court of Appeals in October 2016 reversed Angel's ruling and Braseel had to return to prison with his convictions reinstated.

In 2019, Braseel filed a petition for a new trial based on new evidence. A fingerprint had been found inside the victim's car during the original investigation, but it wasn't matched until 2017. TBI identified the fingerprint as belonging to Kermit Bryson, a Grundy County man suspected of killing Grundy County Deputy Shane Tate in 2008. Bryson took his own life later that same day as authorities closed in. Braseel has contended Bryson was Burrows' killer since the new fingerprint evidence placed him in a car at the crime scene.

In August 2019, Braseel's lawyers and prosecutors reached a plea deal in which Braseel's murder conviction was dropped in exchange for pleading guilty to aggravated assault. Angel ordered him freed immediately, but Braseel at the time was unhappy because he contended he had nothing to do with the slaying. Braseel entered a best interest plea -- also known as an "Alford" plea -- to a felony charge of aggravated assault.

(READ MORE: Popular 'Criminal' podcast airs episode on freed Grundy County man Adam Braseel)

"We still have a fight ahead of us," Braseel said in 2019 a few days after he was freed.

Braseel's next effort was to seek exoneration on his remaining charge. The case went before the seven-member Executive Clemency Unit on June 24, 2020, for a hearing on Braseel's application for exoneration. The panel voted unanimously to recommend exoneration. Gov. Bill Lee exonerated Braseel in December 2021.

According to presiding U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Varlan's scheduling orders for Braseel's civil rights trial set in Knoxville on April 2, 2024, and a pre-trial conference is set for March 26, 2024.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

  photo  Staff File Photo by Ben Benton / Adam Braseel, 36 at the time of this photo on June 26, 2019, smiles toward family members and supporters in the gallery during his hearing in Grundy County Circuit Court on a petition for a new trial before Circuit Court Judge Justin Angel.