This story was updated Feb. 14, 2019, at 10 a.m. with more information.
The initial investigation into a 2000 homicide came under sharp scrutiny Wednesday as Chattanooga prosecutors continued to try a Michigan man who they say has eluded punishment for 19 years.
Sarah Perry's homicide went unsolved for nearly two decades after two teenagers found the 21-year-old woman strangled to death inside of a garbage can in Spring Creek near Springvale Road on June 15, 2000. Though East Ridge authorities said they considered her ex-boyfriend, Jason Sanford, a prime suspect, they couldn't convince the district attorney at the time to prosecute him.
And there were reasons for that, Sanford's attorneys suggested on the second day of his trial.
Chattanooga attorney Johnny Houston said initial investigators never interviewed some people of interest, never found Sanford's DNA on possible murder items and were relying on information from a cousin of Sanford's, Michel Penterics. According to prosecutors, Penterics told law enforcement that Sanford told him he was fleeing to Michigan because he had killed Perry. But Houston said Penterics changed parts of his story the four or five times he spoke with law enforcement in 2000, and he may have disliked Perry because of a prior drug prosecution in Georgia in which they were involved.
Houston also challenged the testimony of Mary Boyd, an elderly woman who said she saw a man in a pickup truck with a garbage can in the bed back into a patch of woods that led to Spring Creek. Boyd testified that she contacted law enforcement in 2000 and 2004 about her information, but no one met with her until an investigator probing Sanford tracked her down in September 2018. Houston said the former lead detective, Julius Johnson of the East Ridge Police Department, didn't remember that information, and Johnson agreed he would have remembered something that important.
Prosecutors countered that District Attorney General Neal Pinkston's cold case unit reopened the homicide in 2016, tracked people down and conducted new interviews and still believed Sanford committed the crime. Laura Boo, a forensic scientist with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, also testified that a person's DNA may not show up on an item if the person wore gloves, or if an item was exposed to extreme temperature, water, or other contamination.
According to the state's theory, Perry was released from a local psychiatric hospital on June 13, 2000, was last seen on June 14, 2000, at 8:30 a.m., and the teenagers discovered her body the next day, June 15, 2000, around 2:30 p.m. Sanford purchased a ticket for Westland, Mich., where he had family, a few hours after her body was discovered.
Attorneys are expected to play on Thursday in Criminal Court the roughly hourlong statement Sanford made to Hamilton County authorities when they tracked him down in Michigan in 2016.