NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Nashville man sent to prison for murdering a woman 21 years ago is another step closer to clearing his name.
A judge has now ruled that Paul Shane Garrett's conviction for killing Velma Tharpe in 2000 is vacated or, in other words, thrown out.
As we have previously reported, Garrett pled guilty and served 8 years behind bars after police claimed he'd confessed to beating and possibly strangling Tharpe to death and leaving her body in an alley in North Nashville.
Yet, Metro Police and the Davidson County District Attorney's Office knew then that Garrett's DNA did not match the evidence found on the victim or at the scene.
And a year later, in 2004, the TBI notified both police and the DA's Office that they'd identified another suspect, Calvin Atchison, through DNA.
Yet, neither pursued charges against Calvin Atchison nor did they attempt to clear Garrett.
Metro Cold-Case Detective Mike Roland first raised questions about the case in 2011 after learning of the DNA discrepancy and reviewing the case files and finding nothing to show that Garrett ever actually confessed to the crime. In fact, what was recorded showed that Garrett repeatedly insisted that he was innocent. Roland believed the original detectives convinced Garrett to agree to a plea deal after convincing him that his DNA was on Tharpe’s body.
The DA at the time, Torry Johnson, and his office then conducted their own investigation and came to the same conclusion, that the wrong man had been sent to prison. Yet Johnson refused to take the case any further.
Roland then tried again last fall when he approached Sunny Eaton, director of now DA Glenn Funk's Conviction Review Unit.
Eaton and her boss now fully support Garrett's efforts to clear his name.
And a week and a half ago, as Garrett made his case for exoneration in court, Eaton called it "inexcusable" that for years the DA’s office refused to clear Garrett’s name.
And Garrett's attorney, Jessica Van Dyke with the Tennessee Innocence Project, echoed those sentiments in court, saying, "What is a travesty is that it took 20 years, to get results in this case.”
In May, police arrested Calvin Atchison, the man whose DNA matched what was found at the scene, and charged him with Tharpe's murder. He remains in jail, awaiting trial.
In her ruling to vacate the conviction, Judge Angelita Dalton wrote, "It cannot be overstated how Mr. Garrett's now-debunked 'confession' has shaped the narrative and direction of his case. Now, in his own words and through filings by both Mr. Garrett and the State, the Court is hearing clearly for the first time Mr. Garrett's voice and the facts associated with the case."
Garrett's attorney, Jessica Van Dyke, said in a statement after the ruling was released, "We were pleased to receive the court's order vacating his conviction and shining light on the true facts of his case. For Mr. Garrett and his family, this has been a long wait for justice."
Sunny Eaton, Director of the Conviction Review Unit, also released a statement that said in part, "Extensive review by the Conviction Review Unit revealed that for years, there have been clear and convincing evidence Mr. Garrett did not commit this crime."
Judge Dalton's ruling only throws out Garrett's conviction. He still technically faces the murder charge in the case and must go back before the judge to seek to have the charge dismissed.
That is expected to happen soon. And, The District Attorney's Office and its Conviction Review Unit are expected to support that effort as well.
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