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Staff photo by Angela Lewis Foster A photo of Sarah Lea (Davis) Perry hangs on the wall Wednesday, August 17, 2016 in the Cold Case Unit. Tuesday afternoon the Hamilton County Grand Jury indicted 43-year old Jason Kirk Sanford of Westland, Michigan, for First Degree Murder in the June 2000 death of Sarah Lea (Davis) Perry.
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Staff photo by Angela Lewis Foster East Ridge police chief J. R. Reed, left, speaks during a press conference Wednesday, August 17, 2016 in the Cold Case Unit, joined by Chattanooga police chief Fred Fletcher, Investigator Mike Mathis and Hamilton County (TN) District Attorney General Neal Pinkston, from left. Tuesday afternoon the Hamilton County Grand Jury indicted 43-year old Jason Kirk Sanford of Westland, Michigan, for First Degree Murder in the June 2000 death of Sarah Lea (Davis) Perry.

The last time Jason Sanford said he spoke with Sarah Perry, 21, she was getting out of a psychiatric hospital and trying to meet a drug dealer. Sanford said that moment, nearly 19 years ago, was when he decided to part ways with his ex-girlfriend.

But the date he claims to have made that decision, and whether it left a two-day window for the man to kill Perry in June 2000, was a main arguing point Thursday as his first-degree murder trial continued in Hamilton County Criminal Court.

Chattanooga prosecutors said Sanford, now 45, left the city on a Greyhound bus on June 15, 2000, the same day Perry was discovered strangled to death in a garbage can in a creek near her East Ridge duplex, received a ride to the bus station from his cousin, Michel Penterics, didn't contact Perry again and was questioned as a suspect but never charged.

Sanford was arrested in August 2016 after cold-case unit investigators reopened the homicide and re-interviewed him in Michigan. Investigator Brian Ashburn, also employed by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, said Sanford told him that he'd left after Perry got out of the hospital, which records show was on June 13, 2000. That would put Sanford in Chattanooga for another two days, and witnesses saw him around Perry's duplex, Ashburn said.

Defense attorneys, though, chalked any confusion about dates up to bad memory and said investigators appeared to give a pass to Sanford's cousin, Penterics, whenever he couldn't remember something during interviews. They said Sanford appeared to be consistent when he gave statements to law enforcement in 2000 and 2016 that he walked, and possibly hitchhiked, to the Greyhound bus station.

According to testimony, Penterics told police that Sanford told him he killed Perry. Attorneys are expected to explore details of the confession Friday when they play a 2017 deposition of Penterics in court. After that, prosecutors will likely rest their case.

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

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