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Willie Eddie Witcher

A 56-year-old Chattanooga man now will face the grand jury on charges he shot and killed his girlfriend, then cleaned her body and changed her clothes, police said.

Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge David Norton sent the case against Willie Eddie Witcher to the grand jury following a preliminary hearing Tuesday. Witcher faces charges of criminal homicide, tampering with evidence and unlawful possession of a weapon. He is in jail.

Witcher told police his girlfriend, 35-year-old Nicole Dupree, came home at 3:30 a.m. on May 26 from playing bingo and asked him for money to buy drugs. When he wouldn't give her money, he said, she grabbed his .38-caliber revolver and said she would pawn it for cash.

The pair struggled over the gun in the couple's 1912 Citico Ave. apartment before the weapon went off, striking Dupree, Witcher said in a police interview.

But a few details pointed Chattanooga police Detective Jay Montgomery to a different conclusion.

A blood spatter on the bedroom doorway showed that Dupree was likely kneeling when the pistol fired, and residue in Dupree's arm indicated she could have been shielding herself before being shot, Montgomery testified Tuesday.

Witcher told police he'd taken off Dupree's clothes after she died and cleaned her body with a wet washcloth before partially reclothing her in a black-and-white one-piece dress.

He then lay with her on the floor for the next 10 to 12 hours before Witcher's brother-in-law, Chris Bell, knocked on the door.

Bell testified he'd stopped by to check on Witcher and, when he answered the door, Witcher looked sad.

"I asked, 'What's wrong?'" Bell testified. "He said he and his girl got into a fight and she's dead."

Bell left immediately and told his wife, Sabrina Bell, who is Witcher's sister. The woman came to the apartment where Witcher told her what happened. Another relative called police.

Prosecutor Ben Boyer asked Montgomery why Witcher said he didn't call police or an ambulance and instead stayed with Dupree's body for so long.

"He didn't want to leave her," Montgomery replied. "He just didn't want us to take her away."

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347.

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