Two Killings – 21 Years Apart, To The Day – Allegedly The Work Of Same Man

Wednesday, January 31, 2007 - by Judy Frank

A Chattanooga man who spent more than 15 years in prison for killing his ex-wife on September 3, 1982, is now awaiting trial for an alleged second lethal attack.

The latest attack occurred on Sept. 3, 2003 – 21 years to the day after the first.

James Curtis Nichols Sr., 55, is due back in court on first-degree murder charges on Valentine’s Day, and his trial is scheduled to begin in March.

The current charges against Nichols grow out of a 2003 altercation, during which prosecutors contend he inflicted mortal injuries on 53-year-old Thomas Joseph Hedgepath.

Hedgepath died on Nov. 9, 2004.

According to the initial police report filed by Chattanooga Police Investigator R.K. Freeman, the officer was assigned to check out an alleged assault at 211 Frazier Ave. on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2003. At that address, he discovered Hedgepath in a broken down vehicle behind the Cyberland Café and Gaming Center, “suffering from multiple stab wounds to the upper torso and a laceration on the neck.”

The officer said he located an eyewitness, Terry L. Gordon, who told police that he was in the car with Nichols and Hedgepath and observed an altercation between the two in which Hedgepath was the aggressor.

“Gordon and Nichols then exited the vehicle, with Nichols stating that he was going to take care of business with Hedgepath,” Freeman noted in his report. “Nichols opened the back door of the vehicle with knife in hand, and (stabbed) the passed-out Hedgepath several times.”

According to Gordon, the report noted, Nichols walked away from the vehicle, “then returned moments later and cut the throat of Hedgepath in an attempt to take his life.”

At the time the report was filed, Hedgepath was a patient in Hamilton County Nursing Home. He died 14 months later.

The 1982 killing – which occurred just six days after Nichols was released on parole from the state penitentiary on an unrelated felony charge – occurred at 1403 St. Elmo Ave., the home of Sharon Rose Wimberly, Nichols’ former wife.

The couple’s two teen-age children, James Curtis Nichols Jr. and Jamie Rose Nichols, also resided at that address and testified during their father’s trial.

Testimony at the trial indicated that Nichols was in a combative mood on Sept. 3, 1982, when he came to his ex-wife’s home around 5:30 p.m. drinking from a bottle of moonshine and carrying a revolver that witnesses said he flashed from time to time.

About 6:30 p.m. he accompanied his son and a neighbor to the Old South Restaurant, where Mrs. Wimberly was working as a waitress, and acted “crazy” and “weird.” After talking to his ex-wife, who was afraid he was going to get her fired, he left the restaurant and returned to the Wimberly home.

He was next door, playing cards with neighbors, when Mrs. Wimberly arrived home from work around 10:30 p.m. An altercation began shortly afterward, and eventually Nichols ordered the two teens out of the Wimberly living room where he and his ex-wife were arguing. They fled to a neighbor’s house.

The neighbor, who was watching through the window, testified that she “seen (Nichols) get off the couch and walk to the chair (in which Mrs. Wimberly was sitting), catch her by the hair of her head, pull it over and shoot her.”

When police arrived around 12:30 a.m., they found Mrs. Wimberly still seated in the chair. Her death was determined to have resulted from a contact gunshot wound, with the bullet entering her head just below her left ear lobe.

Nichols had fled the scene but was found a few hours later pretending to sleep on a nearby porch. His gun, a 22-caliber revolver, was less than two feet away.

Convicted in 1983 of second degree murder, Nichols appealed. However, the decision was upheld in 1985 by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, at Knoxville.

Nichols was released by the Tennessee Department of Corrections in 1999.

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