Judge to decide whether to vacate Claude Garrett conviction

Claude Garrett
Posted at 8:32 AM, Apr 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-05 20:18:24-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Nashville man imprisoned for the last three decades for setting a fire to his house and killing his fiancee could have his conviction vacated.

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk recommended vacating Claude Garrett's first-degree murder conviction and dismissing his case back in November.

The case revolved around an early morning fire in 1992 inside the couple's home in Old Hickory. At the time, medical examiners said his girlfriend Lorie Lee Lance died of smoke inhalation during the blaze.

The Tennessee Innocence Project filed a motion to reopen a post-conviction petition, asking the court to vacate his conviction. Additionally, the Nashville Conviction Review Unit reopened the case and concluded that the 65-year-old man should be exonerated.

During CRU's look at the case, expert testimony and scientific advances showed no evidence to back Garrett caused the fire. At the time, investigators believed he started the fire with kerosene.

Garrett appeared in court on Tuesday for a hearing before Judge Monte D. Watkins.

In court, Lance's sister said the finding's by the CRU continue to favor Garrett and not the evidence. She told Judge Watkins to remember that firefighters found her sister locked in a room. Some have argued the door was not locked.

More than 100 pages of evidence were submitted during the hearing.

Attorney Sunny Eaton of the CRU said she is confident that had the new evidence been available in 1993, attorneys would not have prosecuted Garrett.

The hearing concluded around 12 p.m. Tuesday as Judge Watkins will consider his decision.

Since the fire, two juries convicted Garrett for Lance's death. The first conviction fell apart after a judge overturned the action, explaining Garrett's defense team didn't have all the evidence. A decade later, a jury heard the case again and convicted him. He has since been serving his time in the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.

Family told NewsChannel 5 back in November that his release revolved around errors made in the investigation, citing destroyed evidence after the second trial that would have kept an exoneration from happening.

Since the 2017 inception of the unit, the group has requested exoneration in six cases. On average, the unit receivesbetween five to 10 applications per month.