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Eric McCullough
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Tyecha McCullough

A 47-year-old man accused of second-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of his niece beat his worst charges in court last week.

Jurors on Friday found Eric McCullough guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of second-degree murder after seven hours of deliberation in Hamilton County Criminal Court. They dismissed his additional charge of aggravated assault for stabbing another person, Antwon Lee, on July 29, 2015, in College Hill Courts.

McCullough will be sentenced April 24, before Judge Don Poole in the death of Tyecha McCullough. He faces three to six years for the class C felony. Since the incident, he has spent about two years in the Hamilton County Jail.

"I'll take that verdict as a win, considering everything," said Garth Best, one of his defense attorneys.

Police say McCullough jumped out from a porch and stabbed Tyecha McCullough and Lee without warning while they walked by around 10:30 p.m. on a Wednesday in College Hill Courts.

Lee told police he didn't realize Eric McCullough had a knife at first, and McCullough sliced his left side when he tried to stop the attack. Lee said Tyecha McCullough walked away but collapsed in a grassy courtyard. She died later that night from her injuries.

The uncle and niece had been fighting for several weeks before the stabbing, according to testimony. Eric McCullough told Chattanooga investigator Victor Miller his niece had accused him of spreading rumors about her drug use, during an interview at the police service station.

Miller charged Eric McCullough with criminal homicide at the end of that interview. The charge later became second-degree murder after the case passed through a Hamilton County grand jury, but attorney Best argued McCullough acted out of self-defense and often carried a knife.

"He called 911 and said he was ganged by his niece," Best told jurors during opening statements on March 7. "He didn't want her to die, and he requested an ambulance.

"You're going to hear proof that Eric was in fear, acted in self-defense, had no other option," he said. "You're going to hear Tyecha and Antwon were the primary aggressors and showed up to a house [Eric] was visiting. When Tyecha stopped by earlier that day, he didn't want to have any intent on listening because she could start something."

Prosecutor Cameron Williams countered Eric McCullough sparked the killing after he put a letter in her mailbox threatening to kill Tyecha McCullough.

"He called her a ——," Williams said. "He came back to that College Hill Courts area and was staying with a friend. Tyecha came there to talk to him about that letter. He was there, waiting for her, so she could give him any reason to kill her. And that's what he did."

Williams and detective Miller said Eric McCullough was taller than his niece and in an elevated position on the porch when the confrontation happened. But the defense questioned that narrative.

"He simply stated she hit him," defense attorney Matthew Brock said.

"His statement was she was walking down the sidewalk and that he stood up and came up and punched him," Miller said on the stand.

"That's not physically impossible," Brock countered. "If he's standing on the porch at 6-foot-1 and she's standing on the sidewalk at 5-foot-5 — he just stood up. You don't know if he walked forward or backward."

"He was at least on that first step and she was on the sidewalk," Miller said. "These are the types of questions we're trying to nail down."

"The majority of the blood is on the porch," Brock said. "It looks like the incident happens up there."

Miller said that was true.

"Could it start on the sidewalk with two people and a third person comes up?" Brock asked.

"Could that happen? I guess," Miller said. "Anything can happen in general."

"Exactly," Brock said.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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