NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Claude Garrett has been serving time for the past 30 years, convicted in 1992 death of his girlfriend. But now, District Attorney General Glenn Funk is recommending his conviction be vacated and the case dismissed.
Garrett is currently being held at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution serving a life sentence for the first-degree murder of Lorie Lee Lance. On February 24, 1992, an early-morning fire broke out at the couple's home in Old Hickory. Medical examiners said Lance died from smoke inhalation during the fire.
Two separate juries convicted Garrett, who was 24 years old at the time of the fire, of murder. A conviction from the first trial in 1993 was 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.
However, after an investigation by the Conviction Review Unit within the district attorney's office, the now 65-year-old could soon be free.
In a report on the CRU's findings, the unit spoke with at least 10 experts as part of the investigation. Five of the experts suggested plausible alternate theories that could explain how the fire was started accidentally.
"The jurors who convicted Garrett were not armed with enough reliable testimony or meaningful data to weigh the question posed to them. Today, modern, data-driven scientific understanding allows us to analyze the evidence fairly and discern between feeling and fact," the report reads.
The report says in light of scientific advances, there is no evidence to believe that an incendiary act by Garrett caused the fire more than a hypothesis suggesting it was accidentally caused.
"The inescapable reality is that we will never know for certain what occurred in the early morning of February 24, 1992," the report says. "Fire experts have suggested plausible alternate theories related to accidental causation ... what we are left with is the evidence introduced against Garrett, a record that purports to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he committed a truly heinous act. When stripped of demonstrably unreliable testimony, faulty investigative methods and baseless speculation, however, the case against Garrett is nonexistent."
CRU submitted that the office of the district attorney should formally recommend Garrett's conviction in Lance's death be vacated.
The Tennessee Innocence Project, on behalf of Garrett, has additionally filed a motion to reopen a post-conviction petition, asking the court to vacate his conviction.