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Chance A Loftis
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Travis Hayes Jenkins

Chance Loftis and Travis Jenkins have spent the last 30 months in the Hamilton County Jail, counting birthdays and awaiting trial on charges they beat a man to death.

At the time of his arrest, Loftis was 24. Last month he turned 27. Jenkins, 28 when he was picked up and charged with Donald Rogers' murder, will celebrate his 31st birthday next week.

Neither has been convicted. Until the evidence is laid out in court, they're still considered innocent. And on Monday, a judge said they've waited too long in jail.

Over protests from a prosecutor, Judge Don Poole gave both men reduced bonds of $75,000 and ordered them to stay on house arrest if they're released. They will be monitored with ankle bracelets, and Loftis will be released to Transformation Project, a rehabilitation program.

Police say Loftis and Jenkins went fishing with Rogers in an aluminum boat near Grasshopper Creek Recreation Area in April 2012. The next day a fisherman found Rogers, 46, dead and hanging partly off the side of the boat.

According to police, the men became angry with Rogers after he steered the boat into an obstruction in the river, disabling it some distance from their campsite. All three had been drinking, they said.

Jenkins told police Loftis beat and strangled Rogers because he couldn't find their campsite. A witness testified that Loftis told her he and Jenkins killed the man together. Jenkins told police they also killed the man's Yorkshire terrier. The dog's body was found floating near the boat. Both men were charged with first-degree murder, aggravated animal cruelty and aggravated burglary.

In a motion to reduce bond filed last week, Loftis's attorney, Mary Moore, argued the slow nature of the court proceedings violated her client's right to a speedy trial. Prosecutors requested on Oct. 31 that the trial be moved from Nov. 11, in part because "the state did not send off evidence to the TBI crime lab for 30 months while the Defendant has remained in jail awaiting trial."

Poole said the court had received and accepted an apology for that, but said he was still unhappy.

"I'm completely dissatisfied with when these items were sent off for testing. That's not good," Poole said.

Jay Perry, a Chattanooga defense attorney who teaches criminal law at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said 30 months in jail ahead of trial is "pretty long," but especially given the time it takes to deal with DNA evidence, "not unheard of."

"Especially for a first degree murder, it's not long," Perry said.

Assistant District Attorney General Jason Demastus objected to a lower bond, citing the seriousness of the charges against both men.

"The state's not in a position right now to agree to any bond, and certainly it's at the court's discretion," Demastus said.

Poole used that discretion to reduce the men's bond for a second time. Set at $1 million dollars when they were arrested, it was reduced in July to $400,000. Poole set bond at $75,000.

"I think both defendants are entitled to a lowering of the bond, because they've been in jail so long," Poole said.

Poole cited several of the points addressed in Moore's motion. He pointed out that bond is meant to be set at the lowest possible amount while still providing protection to the public. If they were convicted on a lesser charge of manslaughter, it's conceivable that both men would have been sentenced and eligible for parole in less time than what they've now served.

"I don't think putting it over from Nov. 11, which was the first trial setting, is unduly prejudicial, but being in custody for a long time is not good," Poole said.

Contact staff writer Claire Wiseman at cwiseman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow her on Twitter @clairelwiseman.

From the future, Feb. 2, 2015:

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