This story was updated Wednesday, March 20, 2019, at 7:28 p.m. with a document.
Grundy County, Tennessee's sheriff is joining a growing group of people calling for a new trial for Adam Braseel, a man convicted in a 2007 murder case and sentenced to life in prison.
Braseel was sentenced for the beating death of Malcolm Burrows, but all along he's claimed his innocence. He says it was a case of mistaken identity. Last month, his attorneys said there's new evidence that will prove their client is innocent.
In a statement Wednesday, Sheriff Clint Shrum said that evidence — identification in 2017 of a fingerprint found on the passenger door of Burrows' car at the murder scene as matching Kermit Eugene Bryson — is a reason to revisit the case.
He criticized the initial investigation, saying it appeared to be fraught with problems before the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation became involved. Shrum was not employed at the sheriff's department at the time of the probe.
He qualified his remarks Wednesday by saying he was not expressing an opinion on Braseel's guilt or innocence, but that his statement intends to "reflect a professional opinion based on a conclusion of the facts that I have exposed to in this case."
"The idea that I can simply let Adam Braseel out of jail or re-open the case is simply not true," his statement reads.
Shrum also noted that no jurors in the 2007 trail ever have expressed to him any reservations about their guilty verdict.
"Just like many of you, I have only been privy to read the transcripts and case files provided by outside sources, but it has always appeared to me the previous sheriff's administration was the lead agency in the case and that issues had developed before the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation was asked to assist," Shrum states. "Reviewing the most recent claims surrounding the fingerprint evidence of cop-killer Kermit Eugene Bryson causes me a great deal of concern regarding the other evidence presented or not presented in this case.
"For example, the conflicting descriptions of the assailant and weapons used in the assault of Becky Hill and Kirk Braden," Shrum continues. "Statements that were changed. The manner in which the photo line-up was conducted was an absolute travesty. There was no DNA evidence to link Braseel to the crime and at least one pertinent witness was not asked to testify."
Is the "new" fingerprint evidence significant?
"Absolutely," Shrum said.
"I also believe had this evidence been presented during the trial that it could have caused reasonable doubt. I also feel that previous evidence should be re-visited and that any evidence not previously presented [should] be brought forth," he said.
"If the totality of all the evidence still speaks to the guilt of Adam Braseel then let it be. If it does not, then let him go."
Braseel's attorneys have filed a petition seeking to have the new evidence considered in a call for a new trial.
Steve Strain, the 12th Judicial District assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case at trial and has represented the state in actions since then, declined comment Wednesday. But he said the state would file an answer to Braseel's petition at the end of the month.
Braseel's legal team has said the real killer was Bryson, who had been the target of a 2008 air and ground manhunt after the shooting death of Grundy County deputy Shane Tate. Bryson killed himself in the front yard of a home in Monteagle, Tennessee, as officers closed in on him.
In the petition, the attorneys say Bryson's fingerprint was found at the scene of the crime but that they were not aware it existed until recently when the state released the TBI's recent identification of the print. They also say Bryson's violent criminal record should have made him a suspect early on.
As Shrum was elected sheriff in 2014, Braseel was already in the midst of battling for a new trial, having been denied an appeal in 2011, followed in 2015 by a release from prison by a new judge in the case, Justin Angel, who overturned his murder conviction on another appeal. The state successfully appealed that ruling and Braseel was returned to prison in 2016 after 10 months of freedom with his family. Angel is the judge on the petition to consider the new evidence.
In 2017, Braseel sought a review by the Tennessee Supreme Court, but the court declined to take up the case. As a result, he then filed a motion in federal court in Winchester, Tennessee, to preserve his rights with respect to the original post-conviction petitions. That petition remains there awaiting resolution of pending state court filings.
Braseel's sister, Christina Braseel, said Wednesday she's "ecstatic" over Shrum's public support.
She's among those who say her brother is innocent.
"Can you believe that?" Christina Braseel exclaimed. "Adam doesn't even know yet. I can't wait to talk to him."
She said the sheriff's call for a review helps lend credibility to the call for a fresh look at evidence in the case.
"We're proud of our Sheriff Shrum," she said. "We know he wants justice and it's just fair to ask for a new trial."
Christina Braseel said that she expected to talk to her brother Wednesday night about the day's events.
He's housed at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex west of Pikeville, Tennessee.