NASHVILLE, Tn. (WTVF) — The man recently arrested for murdering a woman in a North Nashville alley 21 years ago wants out of jail.
Calvin Atchison was charged in May with the strangulation death of Velma Tharpe after Metro police said DNA evidence linked him to the crime scene.
The twist in this story is that another man, Paul Shane Garrett, pled guilty to the same murder in 2003 and served 8 years in prison for it. But earlier this week, Judge Angelita Dalton threw out Garrett's conviction based in part on the DNA findings.
Wednesday morning, Atchison, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, asked Judge Mark Fishburn to set a reasonable bond so he can be released.
Atchison's brother-in-law, Joseph Martin, testified that Atchison has recently served as a full-time caregiver to his sister who suffers from dementia and told the judge that, if released, Atchison would continue to live with the couple and provide care for her.
Atchison then wiped away tears as a former girlfriend, Dr. Ashli Martin who has a 5-year-old son with him, described how he had also been a good father figure to her older son, though conceded that Atchison had gone to jail for failing to pay her child support.
Next on the stand, prosecutors called Metro Police Cold Case Detective Mike Roland. Since 2011, when he stumbled across the DNA discrepancy in the case, Roland has been pushing to bring "the right man" to justice. Roland explained how he'd learned about Atchison's DNA match and how through interviews and going through case files, he'd come to the conclusion ten years ago that Atchison was the one who'd committed the crime.
Atchison's attorney, Ben Powers, pushed Roland to admit that he has no new evidence against Atchison other than the original DNA match and then asked the longtime Metro detective why he arrested Atchison ten years after becoming aware of the DNA discrepancy.
Roland replied that it hadn't been up to him.
Roland had, in fact, pushed the Davidson County District Attorney's Office in 2011 to take another look at the case. The DA's Office conducted their own investigation and the findings, compiled in a report, match Roland's. Yet, then-DA Torry Johnson declined to take the findings and the case any further.
Roland did not mention this in court, but previously shared in an interview with NewsChannel 5 Investigates, that he did not give up on the case. And, last fall, Roland took his concerns about the wrong man being convicted of the crime to the new DA Glenn Funk and his Conviction Review Unit.
After conducting its own investigation, the CRU got involved with Garrett's efforts this year to clear his name.
Atchison's attorney tried to keep the ruling, issued by Judge Angelita Dalton on Monday which vacated Garrett's conviction, out of Atchison's bond hearing Wednesday. But Judge Mark Fishburn allowed it in.
Powers told the judge that Atchison is unlikely to try to flee and he attacked the case against his client, calling it 'thin and weak," arguing that bond should be granted and set as low as $15,000 because that's all that Atchison's family says they can afford.
Assistant District Attorney Amy Hunter asked the judge to consider Atchison's shaky family and work history as well as his previous arrest for domestic violence against his wife at the time, even though it was many years ago. Hunter then suggested that the biggest consideration for whether Atchison should get a bond is that this is a first-degree murder case and that, according to the TBI analyst, the evidence in this case is strong. Hunter went on to recommend that bond be set no lower than $300,000.
Judge Fishburn then pondered aloud whether the bond should be based on who Atchison was at the time of the crime 21 years ago or now. Atchison's attorney insisted his client had changed. The ADA however expressed concerns again about Atchison's current situation.
The judge did not make a decision at the conclusion of the hearing but instead promised that he would review the case and have a ruling by next Tuesday. In the meantime, Atchison will remain in jail.
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