NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nearly 30 years later, convicted murderer Claude Garrett could soon have his murder charge vacated.
He was charged with first-degree murder by arson for the death of his fiancé Lorie Lance in 1992. Lance’s family, who just met with Davidson County Conviction Review Unit, (CRU) says they’ve been notified of plans to vacate the charge.
Lance’s sister Hayley Smith made it clear the family was not happy with the latest developments and sent us the following statement:
"We are deeply saddened by the decision to overturn and vacate his [Garrett] conviction and wholeheartedly believe and know he is guilty. [We] stand by his two convictions and would like to thank all the jurors, detectives, firefighters, and everyone that helped convict him two times. We’re thankful that he has spent 29 years in prison for murdering my sister and that he has not been declared innocent. He is only being released because of the errors made in handling the investigation. There was evidence destroyed after the second trial that could have possibly kept this from happening. We believe had these mistakes not been made and evidence not been destroyed, that he would have been convicted a third time.”
If the CRU vacates these charges, they can choose not to take the case back to trial. Smith told NewsChannel 5 that she believes the CRU has no intentions of retrying the case with less evidence and experts continuing to debate if the fire was an accident.
This means that on paper, Garrett will not be responsible for the death of Lance. The two shared a home in Old Hickory when the fire started. Garrett said he woke up to see smoke and flames, but investigators at the time were convinced he started the fire with kerosene.
A conviction from the 1993 trial was later overturned after a judge determined that some evidence was withheld from Garrett’s defense team. Garrett stood trial again ten years later, but a jury once again returned a guilty verdict.
By now, arson experts from around the world cast doubt on if the fire was intentionally set and if there was any presence of kerosene at all.
Smith says her family worries the focus will shift only to the man already convicted of the crime and not the one woman who lost her life. They’re also concerned for their safety if Garrett is released any time soon.
The CRU and the Tennessee Innocence Project who represent Garrett, have both declined to comment on a "pending investigation or case." There's been no court date set.
If Garrett’s conviction is overturned, this would make it the second overturned conviction for Davidson County's CRU this year. So far, the unit’s work has led to three overturned convictions since 2017. Only half of the 88 CRUs around the country have even one exoneration.