A man whose wife has been missing for seven years was charged with her murder Tuesday in Bradley County Criminal Court — again.
Wearing a jail jumpsuit, Donnie Brantley walked handcuffed into a courtroom to once again face a first-degree murder charge in the death of his wife, Marsha Brantley, who went missing in November 2009.
Donnie Brantley was previously charged with first-degree murder in 2013, but prosecutors dropped the charges before the case went to trial, saying in 2014 they wanted to find more evidence. Brantley's body has never been found. She was 51 years old when she disappeared.
A former resident director at Lee University and freelance writer, Marsha Brantley was last seen in late May or early June 2009. Her husband did not report her missing. When questioned later, he told authorities she left him and was seeking a divorce.
A friend prompted the search for Marsha Brantley in November 2009 after she told an attorney she hadn't seen the woman for months. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation led the search at first, and in 2011 requested help from the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.
Donnie Brantley has been a person of interest in the case since at least 2011. Local authorities searched his Cleveland, Tenn., home with cadaver dogs in 2012, but he wasn't charged with murder until 2013.
Former 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb made the decision to drop the charges at that time. When Steve Crump took over as district attorney in 2014, he and a team of investigators reviewed the case and the evidence, he said.
"The proof led me to one inescapable conclusion in my mind, which gave me the belief we should go forward," he said. "We'll see if the jury agrees with me at some point in the future."
He declined to discuss any details of the case and would not say whether any new evidence has been uncovered. He did confirm that Marsha Brantley's body still has not been found.
After a grand jury returned an indictment during its October session, Donnie Brantley was arrested without incident by a team of U.S. marshals in Cartersville, Ga., on Friday, Crump said.
During his brief arraignment Tuesday, Donnie Brantley told the judge he intends to hire an attorney. He said he has had trouble coordinating with family members to hire one from jail.
Judge Andrew Mark Freiberg gave Donnie Brantley a week to secure an attorney and determined he should return to court Tuesday, Dec. 20. Crump said he would like to order forensics tests — particularly a handwriting analysis — and told the judge he could present those motions at the Tuesday hearing if Brantley found an attorney in time.
Brantley also requested to schedule a hearing to reduce his $250,000 bond. Freiberg denied that request, saying such requests must be made in writing.
The Brantley case is the first Crump's office reviewed as part of what will soon be an official cold case task force, he said. The task force, which Crump expects to roll out early next year, will review the about-60 unsolved homicides and suspicious deaths in the 10th District's four-county region, he said. The cases date back to the 1950s.
The new team will be made up of between seven and 12 investigators from various local law enforcement agencies, Crump said. He expects the task force will start with two cold cases from each county, and he's asked local authorities to pick the cold cases "closest to being solved," he said.
"If we can put some new eyes on a case, maybe we can make a difference and solve the case," he said.
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This story was updated Dec. 13 at 11:30 p.m. with more information.