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Nashville man exonerated after serving 8 years in prison for 2000 murder case

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Posted at 11:47 AM, Aug 18, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Paul Shane Garrett has been exonerated for the 2000 murder of Velma Tharpe. He spent 11 years in custody and more than 20 years wondering if he would ever get justice.

Earlier this month, a judge vacated Garrett's conviction, but he was officially exonerated on Wednesday. The District Attorney’s Office said it’s clear DNA evidence points to someone else killing Tharpe.

Garrett spoke to reporters afterwards and said he’s focused on making up for lost time. At times Garrett wiped tears from his eyes as he stood between his wife and son who shares the same name. Garrett reflected on the days he missed out on being a parent.

"I didn't get to watch my kids grow up. I wasn't in their life. It affected my ability to get a job. It affected my ability to trust anyone, because I learned there are bad and good detectives. It changed everything," Garrett said.

He plans to spend more time with his family and maybe get a better job that he now no longer has a felony on his record.

Garrett pleaded guilty to the voluntary manslaughter of Velma Tharpe in 2000. He served 8 years behind bars after police claimed he'd confessed to beating and possibly strangling Tharpe to death before leaving her body in an alley in North Nashville. However, Garrett has maintained that he did not kill Tharpe.

It took until the same year Garrett was released from prison in 2011 for investigators to reveal that DNA evidence likely pointed to another suspect.

Back in May, Metro Nashville Police arrested Calvin Atchison in connection with the murder. Atchison was charged with first-degree murder, but just last week, he posted $50,000 bond while he waits on his next court date.

While she can't speak to why investigators from years past declined to move forward with the evidence, Sunny Eaton said what matters now is doing righting the wrong.

As director of the Conviction Review Unit, Eaton worked closely alongside the Tennessee Innocence Project. Eaton said she's proud of the work they've done and hopes this proves that finding justice isn't always about securing convictions.

"District attorneys support victims. That's what we do. We seek truth. We seek justice and the reality is when we convict people wrongfully, when we send innocent people to prison, it is creating new victims. We have a duty to those people as well," Eaton said.

Jessica Van Dyke of the Tennessee Innocence Project represented Garrett in his case and told reporters she was, "happy to celebrate this day with Mr. Garrett." She credited the DA Glenn Funk's office for taking a much closer look at the case, compared to administrations of the past.

"Nashville is fortunate to have a district attorney's office that is willing to review the integrity of the convictions and ensure that no innocent person remains convicted of a crime that he or she did not commit," Van Dyke said.

Van Dyke concluded by saying she looks forward to seeing Garrett's name added to the National Registry of Exonerations, as well as deleted from the record in this case file.

MORE: 'It was the right thing to do.' Metro detective on bringing a killer to justice 21 years later