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Imojean Braseel-Davis, left, embraces her son, Adam Braseel, during a recent visit at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, west of Pikeville, Tenn.
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Contribued photo From left, Christina Braseel, Adam Braseel and Imojean Braseel-Davis embrace during a recent visit at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, west of Pikeville, Tenn.
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Adam Braseel's mother, Imojean Braseel-Davis, looks at gift from her son sent to her for Mother's Day.

Adam Braseel's family is bracing for the steepest uphill challenge yet in the 33-year-old's campaign for freedom after a 2007 first-degree murder conviction in Grundy County, Tenn., that he and his family say landed on the wrong man.

"Honestly, we just want a fair trial," the convicted man's sister, Christina Braseel, said this week. "I would not have spent 10 years of my life and over $100,000 on anybody if I didn't know he was innocent."

Adam Braseel was convicted by a jury on Nov. 7, 2007, of first-degree murder, felony murder, especially aggravated robbery, attempt to commit first-degree murder, aggravated assault and assault in the shooting death of Malcolm Burrows and assault on his sister, Rebecca Hill, court records show. Hill since has died.

Braseel's new lawyer, Nashville attorney Alex Little, did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment, but Christina Braseel said the family is working with Little to file a habeas corpus petition in an effort to get the federal government to step in.

"We're looking to file before May 26," she said.

A habeas corpus, a writ ordering a person in custody to be brought before a court, places the burden of proof on those who are detaining the person to justify the detention.

"We've got several newly discovered things that have come up," Christina Braseel said, referring to a county detective who never testified at trial or any other hearings and possibly a juror involved in the guilty verdict.

Burrows was found dead Jan. 7, 2006, beside his vehicle about 200 yards from his home on Mellisa Rock Road. Hill had been beaten, sustaining severe head wounds. Braseel, then 22, turned himself in at the Grundy County Sheriff's Department.

An appeal in 2011 was denied but the case was revisited again in November 2015, and Braseel's attorney in December of that year was able to convince Criminal Court Judge Justin Angel that Braseel should get a new trial.

Angel ruled that "there is no other evidence [relating Braseel] to the crimes except the identification by Rebecca Hill and Kirk Braden," and that the defense should have challenged that evidence.

The family was jubilant in Angel's ruling handed down on Christmas Day 2015, but it was short-lived.

State prosecutors appealed the ruling to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, which later reversed the ruling and put Braseel back in prison.

Braseel then petitioned the Tennessee Supreme Court for a review of the case, but the court denied the petition in February.

Christina Braseel said the rejection was "heartbreaking."

"We thought the Supreme Court would look at this case. We were really let down by the state," she said. "That was very heartbreaking. When they took Adam back in October it just really threw us for a loop."

Neither she nor her brother have been the same since he was returned to prison, Christina Braseel said.

"You can tell he's changed. He has had a touch of freedom," she said. "Now he's kind of having doubts about things — not doubts about God, but about people."

But there's hope for the Braseel family now in seeking a hearing at the federal level.

Christina Braseel's convinced a review of all the evidence involved in the case can prove her brother's innocence "if we can get them to just look," she said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

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