On February 28, 2003, 74-year-old Meredith Guy was found shot to death in her home in Martinez, Georgia.
Police focused on her son, 52-year-old Tom Edwin Chumley, as the primary suspect, because the two did not get along and because $10,000 in cash and jewelry was left undisturbed in the home.
But the murder weapon was never found and there was no physical evidence linking anyone to the crime.
More than a year later, on March 28, 2004, Chumley voluntarily walked into the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and confessed on videotape to killing his mother. The following day, Chumley gave another videotaped confession.
Chumley was asked several times during the confessions to explain why he shot his mother once in the back and once in the head. “There was no reason,” Chumley said. “I don’t have a reason. There was no ‘why.’”
Chumley was charged with murder and illegal use of a firearm. He went on trial in Columbia County Superior Court in March 2005. He was forced to wear leg shackles in the courtroom during the trial.
The prosecution largely relied on the video tapes of the confessions, during which Chumley said he shot his mother with a .22-caliber pistol which he then dismantled and destroyed. Asked by a sheriff’s deputy if he was sorry, Chumley said, “I have no emotion. The only emotion I have is that it is time for closure.”
Chumley’s attorney contended that Chumley falsely confessed because he had become severely depressed because he was a suspect in his mother’s murder and was tired of investigators talking to his friends and family.
Chumley had gotten divorced during the year after the murder. His ex-wife, Lisa, told the jury, “Everywhere we went, we were suspects…They went to my baby’s school. They talked to my family…I felt like my whole family was under a microscope.”
Chumley testified in his own defense that the confessions were false and that he made them because he was depressed. A psychiatrist who met with Chumley after he was charged testified that he believed Chumley suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar depression.
On March 12, 2005, the jury convicted Chumley of murder and illegal use of a firearm. The jury sentenced him to life in prison.
In January 2008, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the convictions and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that the trial judge erred when he told the jury that Chumley “clearly understood” that he was confessing, that the confessions were voluntary—“freely and willingly given.” According to the Supreme Court, the issue of the voluntariness of the confession was a matter for the jury—not the judge—to decide.
Chumley went on trial a second time in July 2009. Again the prosecution relied upon the videotaped confessions. The defense presented a new expert, a psychologist who treated Chumley for several years after the murder, and who testified that Chumley’s suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The defense at Chumley’s second trial also located a friend of his who worked as a police officer in a neighboring county. The officer testified that in the months leading up to Chumley’s confessions, Chumley told him that he was going to falsely confess because he was so depressed at being labeled a suspect by the town’s citizenry and police and because his marriage had broken up.
On July 17, 2009, the jury acquitted Chumley and he was released.
– Maurice Possley