A woman serving a life sentence in a Tennessee prison was granted a retrial for the 2009 murder she was accused of carrying out at just 13 years-old.
Angel Bumpass, now 27, was one of two people originally charged with killing Franklin Bonner, 68, who was bound and suffocated to death in his Washington Hills home in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Jan. 19, 2009, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Bumpass, just 13 at the time of Bonner’s murder, was found guilty of first-degree murder following a trial in 2019, while her male co-defendant, Mallory Vaughn — who was 26 when Bonner was killed — was acquitted of all charges.
Her lawyer, William Massey, has since noted that the state was "unable to establish any direct connection” between Bumpass and Vaughn, according to court records obtained by Law & Crime.
Hundreds of thousands of supporters around the country have since petitioned against what they believe was a wrongful conviction.
Photo: Tennessee Department of Correction
Massey filed a motion for a new trial on July 14, citing, among other reasons, “unfair prejudice” caused by unnecessary testimony and notes submitted into evidence by the state written by a detective who was under investigation for misconduct in a separate case.
Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz agreed that Bumpass did deserve a new trial, the Press reported Thursday.
“The court agrees that the cumulative effect of errors by the court and the parties support the granting of a new trial,” Greenholtz said in his decision. “Accordingly, the court grants the defendant’s motion for a new trial.”
Franklin Bonner was found dead on the floor of his home more than 13 years ago, after someone tied him to his kitchen table and chair, according to the Press. Whoever killed him wrapped his head, face and mouth in duct tape, resulting in his suffocation.
Investigators believed he died as part of a deadly robbery. Franklin Bonner's wife, Linda Bonner, testified at the eventual trial that she and her husband had been selling marijuana from their home, according to The Chattanoogan.
The case went unsolved for a decade before Bonner’s loved ones pushed authorities to take a new look at Bonner’s murder, prompting a reexamination of physical evidence from the crime scene, according to ABC Chattanooga affiliate WTVC. Investigators then found two partial fingerprints on the duct tape used to suffocate Bonner, which they claimed matched to Bumpass — who was in the eighth grade at the time of the murder.
She was arrested and convicted after a two-day trial in 2019.
Relatives said Bumpass’ lawyers at the time, Garth Best and Andrea Hayduk, failed to accurately portray to the jury that she was just an 80-pound child when she allegedly committed the horrific murder.
The case was featured as a 2020 episode of A&E’s "The Accused: Guilty or Innocent?,” according to the Times Free Press. Many justice-focused advocates, as well as Bumpass’ family, had taken issue with how authorities handled the case, describing Bumpass as a young mother and community college student who was completely taken aback when detectives arrived at her doorstep with a murder warrant.
The lead detective on the case, Karl Fields of the Chattanooga Police Department, also came under fire after the trial, when it came out that he'd been accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a rape victim whose case he had been investigating in 2014, according to the Times Free Press. He had been fired in 2015 and indicted for tampering with evidence in a different case, according to WTCV, though the latter charges were later dismissed.
Fields had also pleaded guilty to a 2006 DUI, which he initially attempted to pass off as a carjacking, according to the Press.
William Massey, representing Bumpass, cited Karl Fields’ “wrongdoing involving a witness” when filing a motion for a new trial.
Massey also claimed the state should not have questioned Franklin Bonner’s wife, Linda Bonner, on the stand about whether or not she knew Bumpass’ grandmother, Shirley Bumpass, according to the motion. Massey said it had no bearing on the case, while prosecutors said it could potentially put the minor at the Bonner home prior to the murder.
“It is respectfully submitted that this testimony created unfair prejudice to defendant by inviting speculation by the jury that defendant must have had some ‘connection’ or ‘tie’ to the Bonner home simply because her grandmother had possibly been there before,” Massey argued in the motion.”Any possible ties to the Bonner home that defendant’s grandmother, Shirley Bumpass, may have had would not tend to make it more probable that Angel Bumpass, her 13-year-old granddaughter, robbed and killed Franklin Bonner in his home.”
A witness testified Shirley Bumpass had been one of the couple’s customers.
Massey said he was “absolutely thrilled” when he received then news about a new trial on August 31, but said it wasn’t quite a done deal yet: The state has the right to appeal the judge's decision within 30 days of the ruling.
Angel Bumpass’ conviction has been currently been set aside, and a status hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 7.