On January 16, 2009, Franklin Bonner’s wife Linda found him tied to a table and chair in their Chattanooga, Tennessee home, apparently murdered during a robbery attempt.
When officers arrived at Bonner’s home, they found the house had been ransacked, but very little to suggest who was responsible, Law & Crime reported. For 10 years, no one knew who had killed Bonner but, as the true crime podcast Midwest Crime Files noted, police had some clues.
Franklin Bonner was known to always have cash with him, and dealt marijuana to people in his neighborhood. On the morning of his death, a woman who lived two miles away named Shirley Bumpass called him. She later told police she purchased marijuana from him. Bumpass was likely the last person who saw him alive.
Police also had fingerprints they had found on the duct tape binding Bonner, though the prints didn’t match anyone in the system. Nine years later, however, 23-year-old Angel Bumpass, Shirley’s granddaughter who had moved from Tennessee to Kentucky, failed to appear for a traffic ticket and was arrested. Her prints were taken and they matched those taken from the duct tape in the Bonner murder.
At the time of Bonner’s murder, Angel would have been 13 years old, 5-feet tall, and weighing just 80 pounds. She told police she didn’t know anything about Bonner’s death and that she never met him or had been in his home. Angel, a mother of two who was preparing to enter a nursing program, was shocked that she had been arrested for felony murder.
Along with Angel, a man named Mallory Vaughn was arrested for Bonner’s murder, after his cousin – who was in federal prison for a bank robbery – claimed Vaughn had admitted to burglarizing Bonner’s home and binding the victim. The cousin later changed his story and said he had learned of the case through Detective Karl Fields, the original lead detective on the case who was later accused of sexually harassing a rape victim, tampering with evidence, and gross misconduct. The charges were dropped because of a lack of evidence.
Both Mallory Vaughn and Angel Bumpass said they didn’t know each other, yet they were tried together. The prosecution alleged that Angel’s fingerprints could only have been found on the duct tape if she was there when Bonner was killed; the defense argued that nine other fingerprints were also found on the duct tape and that Angel had been in school the day of the crime.
Angel was found guilty for a crime she allegedly committed when she was 13 years old and sentenced to life in prison, while Vaughn was found not guilty.
Over the years, Angel’s defense team has tried numerous times to get her conviction overturned. In late August, a Hamilton County Criminal Court ruled that there were enough errors in the case to warrant a new trial, though Judge Tom Greenholtz insisted the evidence supported Angel’s conviction.
“[T]he Court reaffirms its finding that the evidence is legally sufficient to support the Defendant’s convictions,” Greenholtz wrote. “However, the Court agrees that the cumulative effect of errors by the Court and the parties support the granting of a new trial. Accordingly, the Court grants the Defendant’s motion for a new trial.”
Errors cited by the court included one of Angel’s family members repeatedly saying the evidence “didn’t look good” for Angel even though the witness didn’t have direct knowledge of Angel’s alleged involvement in the crime. Other errors included the jury seeing Angel’s yearbook photo without it being treated as an official exhibit in the case as well as a prosecutor asking an investigator if the defense had asked for “DNA analysis on a hair follicle found near the Defendant’s fingerprint.”
While these errors didn’t amount to much on their own, together they required a new trial. The errors, along with other issues like the lack of a connection between Angel and Bonner, could mean a new trial overrules Angel’s conviction.
“In summary, the weight of the evidence supporting the Defendant’s intention to commit the underlying felony was not significant beyond its minimum evidentiary sufficiency,” Greenholtz wrote. “In many cases involving claims of cumulative error, the claim often falls short due to the overwhelming nature of the evidence against the defendant. That is not the case here.”