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Nathan Deere
The times that's gone by has been very hard for us, because we just don't understand why they won't finish it – so there is no closure.
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Nathan Deere stands with his younger sister, Tiffany Grant, on her birthday in 2010.

By the Numbers:

Homicide suspect Christopher Padgett has had 5 attorneys and made 47 appearances in criminal court. The crime was committed on 4/18/2012. Almost 4 years have passed, and his next trail date is set for 7/9/2016.

Two weeks before he was shot to death, Nathan Deere posted a picture on social media of several $20 bills spread across a blanket.

"Putting in work n still going ayyyyy," the 33-year-old cab driver for Millennium Taxi & Transportation Services wrote on his Facebook page in April 2012.

Nearly four years later, it's a picture his mother cannot stop analyzing as the man accused of killing her son, Christopher Padgett, continues to slide through Criminal Court without a trial.

"It just makes me angry," Truveda Deere said of the picture. "I just go through thinking, 'If he did try to kill my son for that money, then why didn't it happen on that day? And how did he know my son? And what association could they have had? When I see it, it just hurts me. It all just hurts me."

Police say Padgett got into Deere's cab — the "No. 3" that he loved to cruise around the city — and shot him in the back of the head on April 18, 2012. Padgett is charged with especially aggravated robbery along with murder and gun charges.

When officers were sent to 1643 Ocoee St. around 5:50 p.m., they found Deere slumped over in the driver's seat. Deere was taken to Erlanger hospital, where he died the next day.

Investigators moved quickly at the time.

Checking the last number called on Deere's phone, they tracked down Padgett, newly turned 18 and with no record in Hamilton County Criminal Court. Padgett denied knowing Deere and said a friend used the cellphone between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. to hail a cab, police said.

Prosecutors didn't buy the story, and charges were filed in Criminal Court that July.

Since then, the case has sat there, weathering a whirlwind of motions and hearings and continuances and passes and attorney withdrawals and warrants and trial date after trial date after trial date.

The docket reveals a rhythm:

Padgett hires an attorney. The attorney files a motion to reduce Padgett's bond. There's a hearing. The attorney calls for evidence that could exonerate Padgett, now 21. The case is delayed. The attorney and Padgett have a falling out, for whatever reason. Then, Padgett hires new representation and the cycle repeats.

mapTo date, there's been one plea agreement that fizzled out about a year and a half ago. Five attorneys. Forty-seven court appearances. And for Nathan Deere's family, nearly four years of living with their loved one's courthouse ghost.

Last week, attorneys set a June 7 trial date with a May 18 status check. And Friday, after weighing several factors, a judge decided not to lower Padgett's $350,000 bond. Meredith Ziebold, his appointed attorney, said she couldn't comment on the case.

Meanwhile, the Deere family seeks closure, and a return to life.

"The time that's gone by has been very hard for us," said Tiffany Grant, Deere's younger sister, "because we just don't understand why they won't finish it — so there is no closure. Every April, we just go, 'Why?' And they push it back, they push it back, and it's torture for us."

A longtime Waffle House cook, Nathan Deere leaped into cab driving around 2010 because his spirit couldn't be contained, family members said. It had to be zooming across Chattanooga, honking at friends, hollering out the window.

Deere enjoyed old-school hip-hop artists, like Tupac Shakur, wore bright colors to complement his dark complexion, and cared for his nephews as if they were his own children.

The oldest sibling growing up in a single-parent household, Deere often looked after Grant while his mother worked. He combed her curls, picked her outfits, and even at 6 years old, sometimes made dinner. Years later, when the family moved to Nevada, Deere continued his surrogate father role for Grant's two boys.

"What are you doing?" Grant would ask whenever Deere popped into and started his usual horseplay.

"We're wrestling," Deere would reply. "You're going out, getting your nails done and having some mommy time."

It's unclear whether Deere's short criminal record in Chattanooga was related to his slaying. Erica Hubbard, his friend and former girlfriend, said Deere knew gang members but was never one himself.

Deere "had gotten in trouble previously and was arrested," Hubbard said. "But he was a hard-working man. He didn't worry about saving money and having material things because he enjoyed every moment."

One year, she said, Deere got a big wall clock, hung it around his neck, and went as rapper and entertainer Flavor Flav to a Halloween party.

"If he wanted to do something, he just did it," she said.

For those who knew Deere best, those memories are a shadow lengthening beneath their lives as Padgett's case winds its slow way through court.

Truveda Deere said the strangest everyday moments trigger her grief.

"We had a little service in Chattanooga [in 2012], just a small one for his cab friends," said Truveda Deere, who lives in Dallas with her sister.

"Then we took his body to Oklahoma City, at his grandma's church. And we walked into church that Sunday and there was a young man in the exact suit that Nathan loved — a blue jean, three-piece suit, with a nice jacket and vest. He used to wear an orange shirt with it. And this guy had the same suit, a different shirt, but an orange hankie, and it was so overwhelming. He was in the choir, sitting in the front.

"So it's just little things like that," she said, "and it's just overwhelming."

Hubbard, who works at Waffle House, keeps a picture of Padgett in her phone and glances at it every now and then.

On the fateful day, Hubbard worked, went home, made dinner. Then came the call from her co-worker: Nathan had been shot.

"I went to the hospital, I stayed in ICU," she said. "He didn't have any family here except for one aunt. So I called his mom. And I had to tell his sister."

Alone on a seat in the waiting room, Hubbard noticed she had one voice message. She held up the phone to her ear and heard a familiar sound.

"Ayyy," the message began. It was Nathan.

"Just calling to see how you're doing. I was on a break. Call me when you get a chance."

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeter son@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347 with story ideas or tips. Follow @zackpeterson918.

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