Chattanooga prosecutors dropped murder charges Tuesday filed against an 18-year-old man accused of shooting and killing one woman and injuring a man during an attempted robbery in 2017.
Tyrus Birt remains in the Hamilton County Jail, however, on a separate attempted first-degree murder case. He will appear again April 30 before Criminal Court Judge Don Poole.
According to authorities, Birt, then a minor, got a ride from Cody Nunley and Glenda Swafford at a church near East 34th Street and Clio Avenue on March 30, 2017. From the rear passenger seat, a court document says, Birt directed them to an abandoned house on Clio Avenue. Then, documents say, he shot Swafford in the back, shot Nunley in the face and then fled.
Another witness in the vehicle and Nunley picked Birt out of a photo lineup identification, authorities wrote in court documents, and prosecutors secured first-degree murder, attempted felony murder, employing a firearm during a dangerous felony and two counts of attempted especially aggravated robbery charges against Birt in September 2017 after he was transferred from Juvenile Court to be tried as an adult.
While in custody, Birt said prosecutors had the wrong man. In a letter he wrote to Poole, Birt said Nunley told police during an interview that he'd never seen Birt in his life. During a preliminary hearing in May 2017, Birt added, Nunley testified that he didn't know who shot him. Birt said he ended up facing charges because of coercive police interview tactics.
"Also [The other witness in the car] picked number six out of the lineup, which is not me," Birt wrote in a second letter to Poole. "I was number one."
It's impossible for the Times Free Press to verify that May 2017 Juvenile Court testimony. According to Melydia Clewell, a spokeswoman for Chattanooga prosecutors, Juvenile Court hearings aren't recorded. Clewell added that "Birt's allegations had nothing to do with our decision" to drop the charges before his scheduled trial on April 30.
Birt's charges were multilayered: Attempted felony murder, for instance, means prosecutors have to prove that Birt was committing an underlying felony when the attempted killing of Nunley happened. In this case, the underlying felony would be attempted especially aggravated robbery.
This is also not Birt's only case. On March 31, 2017, the day after he was accused of shooting Nunley and Swafford but before he was arrested, Birt was accused of shooting at two other people.
David Green and his wife, Tendra Kimbrough, said they were sitting at a traffic light that day at Alton Park Boulevard and W. 38th Street when a silver SUV pulled up beside them, court documents say. Out of the passenger window came Birt, who opened fire on both of them, they told police. Green and Kimbrough said Birt was retaliating because they had filed a police report against him recently for allegedly breaking into their home and stealing a flat-screen TV.
In that case, Birt faces charges in Hamilton County Criminal Court of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, unlawful possession of a handgun by a juvenile, unlawful possession of a firearm and employing a firearm during a dangerous felony.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.