A citizen committee has been assembled to review years of unprocessed evidence discovered last month in the Hamilton County medical examiner's office, according to a news release from the county district attorney's office.
District Attorney General Neal Pinkston selected a five-person team that includes former judges, prosecutors and professors to ensure conviction integrity of 35 cases with unanalyzed evidence, the release states.
"Hopefully, we can all come up with some ideas and some consensus for what's the best thing to do with this inventory," said attorney Lee Davis, one of the committee members.
Davis said committee members haven't met yet. They're waiting for Pinkston to finish drafting a proposal on how to conduct inventory for the evidence that turned up last month in the medical examiner's office.
That evidence, which includes bullets removed from bodies, fingernail clippings and hair and DNA swabs, pertains to 13 suicides or accidental deaths, two cold-case killings and 20 homicides that have presumably been prosecuted between 1986 and 2002. So far, the district attorney's office has not commented on how or why the evidence went unprocessed.
"If you think of a roadmap, this evidence came from some place," Davis said. "Whether that destination was a police officer, the [district attorney's] office, or the courtroom, it never made it there. It stopped at the medical examiner's office. I don't believe that was it's final destination."
Davis said Pinkston approached him about joining the committee because he worked on several cases in the 1990s, when DNA was first admitted as forensic evidence. The other committee members include: Buddy Perry, a retired judge for the 12th District of Tennessee; Hugh Moore, a former civil rights prosecutor; Dwight Aarons, a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Law; and Eddie Holmes, a former president of Chattanooga's NAACP.
Once Pinkston returns his proposal, the committee will start to go through the evidence, a process that should be finished by the end of the year, according to the news release.
In the meantime, any defendant convicted of a homicide between 1986 and 2002 who wants to know if their case has unanalyzed evidence should contact the district attorney's office at 423-209-7400.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347 with story ideas or tips. Follow @zackpeterson918.
Updated Jan. 19 at 11:10 p.m. An earlier version of this story said that the committee would analyze 35 cases. Although officials don't have an exact number, there are hundreds of cases spanning 1986 to 2002 with unprocessed evidence. We regret the error.