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Angel Bumpass

Other Tennessee exonerations
On January 16, 2009, Linda Bonner found her 68-year-old husband, Franklin, duct-taped to a chair with tape over his nose and mouth in their home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He wasn’t breathing and was pronounced dead at the hospital of suffocation.

Bonner was known as the “lottery man” and was known to have cash on him from sales of marijuana. There were signs of blunt force trauma.

A woman named Shirley Bumpass, who lived about two miles away, told police that she had called Franklin that morning. She said she came to the house and purchased marijuana from him. Police believed she may have been the last person to see him alive.

Police found 11 fingerprints and a hair on the sticky side of the duct tape. At the time, the police said a search of the prints in the Automated Fingerprint Information System (AFIS) did not result in an identification.

No arrests were made until 2018, nine years later, when 23-year-old Angel Bumpass, Shirley’s granddaughter, failed to appear for a traffic ticket in Kentucky. An arrest warrant was issued, and on June 14, 2018, Bumpass was arrested. Her fingerprints were taken, entered into AFIS, and automatically searched against unidentified crime scene prints. That search indicated Bumpass was a candidate source of two partial prints from the duct tape. Fingerprint analysts then concluded that Bumpass was the source of those prints. She was then arrested for murder and aggravated robbery.

Bumpass was 13 years old at the time of the crime. She was 5 feet tall, weighed 80 pounds and was in the eighth grade. She had moved away as a teenager, and at the time of her arrest, Bumpass had two children and was a student at Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, Kentucky. She denied any involvement in the crime.

At about the same time as Bumpass’s arrest, Nicholas Cheaton, a federal prisoner serving time for a bank robbery, told police that his cousin, Mallory Vaughn, had admitted to committing the crime. Although Cheaton subsequently recanted that claim and said he was only trying to get his sentence reduced, Vaughn, who was 26 at the time of the murder, also was charged with murder and aggravated robbery.

Vaughn denied involvement in the crime and claimed he had never met Bumpass. In the fall of 2019, Vaughn and Bumpass, who was being tried as an adult, went to trial in Hamilton County Circuit Court. The prosecution presented testimony that Bumpass was the source of the partial prints.

The defense presented evidence that Bumpass had been at school on the day of the crime and had arrived home around 3 p.m. Bonner’s wife found him about 5 p.m. The defense argued that the window of two hours to walk the two miles to Bonner’s home, commit the crime, and return was not logical or probable.

Angel’s grandfather testified that he occasionally did odd jobs for Bonner. Angel often helped her grandfather in the garage and played with the rolls of duct tape kept there. The tape itself had been destroyed in the years after the crime.

On October 3, 2019, the jury convicted Bumpass of first-degree felony murder and aggravated robbery. Vaughn was acquitted. Bumpass was sentenced to life in prison.

In August 2022, Judge Tom Greenholtz, who had presided over Bumpass's trial, granted a defense motion for a new trial and vacated Bumpass’s convictions. The judge ruled that several errors occurred during the trial that, considered collectively, required that Bumpass received a new trial.

The errors included the original trial judge’s ruling that disallowed the introduction of an eighth grade yearbook photo of Bumpass into evidence. The judge noted that the defense had not disclosed its intention to use the photo prior to trial. Judge Greenholtz said the exclusion of the photo from evidence as a sanction “went beyond what was necessary to cure any prejudice.”

Judge Greenholtz said the prosecution had elicited information that had been ruled inadmissible—that the defense had not sought DNA analysis on the hair follicle found near one of the fingerprints linked to Bumpass. The result, Judge Greenholtz noted, was a suggestion that Bumpass had a burden to prove her innocence.

Judge Greenholtz also criticized the defense for failing to make appropriate objections to the prosecution’s attempts to link Bumpass to Vaughn through a “years-later connection” with a relative of Bumpass.

In addition, Judge Greenholtz noted that Cheaton had testified that he was not familiar with the name Bumpass, and he did not know anyone named Angel. The judge noted that “taking all of Mr. Cheaton’s testimony in a light most favorable to the State, Mr. Cheaton did not connect or implicate [Bumpass]” in the crime at all.

Judge Greenholtz said the evidence was insufficient to establish that Bumpass committed robbery. And without the robbery, a felony-murder charge cannot stand, Judge Greenholtz ruled.

On November 3, 2022, Bumpass was released on bond pending a retrial.

On August 8, 2023, Judge Amanda Dunn dismissed the charges. The dismissal came after Bumpass had been administered two polygraph examinations—one by the defense and one by the prosecution. In both instances, examiners said she showed no deception when she denied any involvement in the crime.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/9/2023
Last Updated: 10/9/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:2009
Age at the date of reported crime:13
Contributing Factors:Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No