NASHVILLE — A man convicted in two of Nashville's most notorious cold cases has won a small victory at the state Court of Criminal Appeals.
Jerome Barrett will get a new hearing on claims that his attorney was ineffective in a 2009 trial that led to his conviction in the murder of Vanderbilt University student Sarah Des Prez more than 30 years before. Barrett will also get a new hearing on a request to independently test DNA evidence.
The Appeals Court on Monday sent the issues back to a lower court judge who ruled against Barrett on those claims after a 2015 hearing. The Appeals Court found the judge improperly denied Barrett's request to either postpone the hearing or let him act as his own attorney.
Barrett is serving a life sentence for the murder of 19-year-old Des Prez in 1975 and a 44-year sentence for the murder of 9-year-old Marcia Trimble, a Girl Scout who disappeared while delivering cookies that same year.
According to the Monday ruling, after Barrett's ordinary appeals were denied in the Des Prez case, he petitioned the courts for relief based on several claims, including that his trial attorney was ineffective.
The court appointed a new attorney for him, but that attorney never spoke with Barrett before the hearing. He also did not investigate Barrett's claims or subpoena any witnesses to testify at the hearing. When Barrett asked the judge to either postpone the hearing or let him represent himself, the judge ignored Barrett's requests and told him to "have a seat," according to the Monday ruling.
Barrett, formerly of Memphis, was in prison on sex charges between 1974 and 2002, except for about a year when Trimble and Des Prez were killed. Metro Nashville's homicide cold case unit began investigating Barrett 30 years after Des Prez's death based on similar offenses for which he was convicted in Nashville around the same time, according to court records.
After his arrest in the Des Prez case in 2007, DNA evidence led investigators to link Barrett to Trimble's murder. Before that, police had focused on a 15-year-old boy in the neighborhood whom the girl visited while distributing cookies.
In its Monday ruling, the Appeals Court did not evaluate the merit of Barrett's claims about problems with the Des Prez trial. The Appeals Court left that to the lower court to decide at the new hearing.