Attorneys debate witness availability in 2000 East Ridge cold case

Attorneys debate witness availability in 2000 East Ridge cold case

October 23rd, 2017 by Zack Peterson in Breaking News

State prosecutors want to depose a Michigan man whose brain cancer may claim his life before he can testify in a 2000 murder case of an East Ridge woman.

But defense attorneys for the accused are concerned about the memory of a man undergoing chemotherapy and questioned how crucial the witness's testimony would be to the cold case.

Jason Kirk Sanford is charged with one count of first-degree murder in the slaying of his ex-girlfriend, Sarah Perry, who was found strangled to death in a garbage can in June 2000.

Sanford fled to Michigan days after and had conversations with Michel Penetrics in 2000 about the crime, prosecutors say. Sanford was indicted in August 2016, transported back to Chattanooga and is being held in the downtown jail.

Though prosecutors want to call Penetrics to the witness stand if there ends up being a trial, they're worried he won't be available because of his cancer.

That's why they want to depose him, or ask Penetrics questions under oath with Sanford's defense attorneys present.

Judge Tom Greenholtz said today he can't order a deposition until he receives more information on Penetrics' diagnosis.

Greenholtz reset the case to Oct. 30, giving prosecutors more time to reach out to the Michigan-based man.

There's no trial date set yet for Sanford, but attorneys have a few guidelines to consider in these scenarios: Will the witness be unavailable, is their testimony necessary to the case, and would there be a failure of justice if the witness doesn't testify?

Johnny Houston, one of Sanford's defense attorneys, questioned the relevance of the conversations in 2000.

"It's essentially a third-hand conversation between a local police office [in Michigan] and Mr. Penetrics' mother," Houston said. "So I think there needs to be some showing of medical proof as to what his his status is, as to what the doctors predict."

District Attorney General Neal Pinkston said his team could contact Penetrics as soon as possible and get more details on his medical condition. Pinkston said he wants the deposition to preserve any possible evidence for the state's case, since defense attorneys may seize upon interviews that Penetrics gave to law enforcement in 2000 and 2016.

"He would be the possible alternate suspect, perhaps, by the defense," Pinkston said.

If Penetrics ends up being available, Pinkston said he wouldn't use the deposition.

This is a developing story. Please check back later for more information.