A man who pleaded guilty to a 1996 homicide has filed a federal lawsuit against the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office for "refusing to perform DNA testing on 'unprocessed evidence'" that he believes would exonerate him.
Tracy Vick was sentenced to 40 years in prison in the fatal shooting of Melva Moore. Prosecutors said Vick and two armed accomplices went to the back door of Moore's home on Sept. 20, 1996. When Vick pushed the door open with the gun, he met Moore, who was on her way outside. He shot her in the chest.
Moore "staggered to the living room of the house where she was found dead," according to a Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals opinion listing the facts of the case. "The defendant claimed he did not intend to shoot Moore, but Moore slammed the door on his arm and the gun went off."
Vick has appealed the sentencing multiple times over the years, but the appeals were denied.
Then on July 15, 2016, he received a letter from the district attorney's office letting him know his case was one of 284 homicide cases to have been found to have autopsy evidence that wasn't analyzed.
In November 2015, the district attorney's cold case unit learned that an employee of the medical examiner's office had discovered unanalyzed evidence from 284 homicides, suicides and accidental deaths that occurred between 1986 and 2002.
One of those cases was the one for which Vick pleaded guilty.
The letter listed three pieces of evidence that had not been tested: a bullet fragment, head hair and pubic hair.
"In the coming months, we will be reviewing each of the 284 homicide cases individually to ensure conviction integrity," the letter reads.
The district attorney's office said the lengthy process would be completed by the end of 2016.
But Vick claims no action has been taken by the district attorney, medical examiner, sheriff or the courts.
District Attorney General Neal Pinkston did not return a request for comment or clarification about where the review of the 284 homicide cases stands.
Vick, who is representing himself in the lawsuit, is asking for post-conviction DNA testing and contends that the results "would conclusively prove that [Vick] was not involved in the crime."
He claims his initial defense was that he was not the person who shot Moore, the lawsuit states. But he pleaded guilty "based on his fear of the death penalty" and, because of that fear, he would have pleaded guilty "even if he had not committed the crime," according to a 2003 appeal.
In that appeal, Vick argued he received ineffective counsel. He said he was told that the death penalty could be a genuine outcome if he proceeded to trial and was assured that, if he pleaded guilty, he would not receive the maximum sentence.
The appeal was denied, based on the lower court questioning him "extensively" about whether his plea was made with knowledge and understanding, according to the 2003 appeal decision. And, while the state "may have briefly considered the death penalty as a possible option, the district attorney general never filed notice to seek this option."
Nevertheless, Vick argues his conviction "rested solely on the statements of his co-defendants, both of whom received favorable pleas for statements and testimony against [him]" and no physical evidence was submitted by the state, the lawsuit states.
He claims his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process, and he is asking for a judge to issue an injunction to force the county to test the various pieces of unprocessed evidence.
By the county allegedly "refusing" to conduct DNA testing, it "amounts to the [county] holding all the cards in the deck and requiring [Vick], and others similarly situated, to make a presentation without giving [Vick] a fair chance."