On the eve of a cold case murder trial in Cleveland, District Attorney General Steve Crump on Monday morning announced that charges were being dismissed against Donnie Ray Brantley in the mysterious death of his wife, Marsha Brantley.
Ms. Brantley disappeared in 2009 and her body has never been found. She was 52 and worked at Lee College (now University).
DA Crump said Chattanooga attorney Lee Davis had raised issues of territorial jurisdiction and he indicated that Judge Andrew Freiberg appeared to be swayed by the defense argument.
DA Crump said on Saturday he concluded "that this case might never get to a jury." He also cited a recent ruling on a similar issue in McMinn County that went against the state.
He said he took the action "with a very heavy heart."
Judge Freiberg told Brantley, "You are free to go." He had been free on bond.
DA Crump said the case may not be over and that it has been assigned to the Cold Case Unit.
He said, "We are not finished with this case."
Attorney Davis said he believes his client is innocent, and he said he welcomes the probe by the Cold Case Unit. He said he believes it will come to the same conclusion.
He said, "In this unusual case the state has no proof of a crime. The state charged Donnie Brantley with first-degree murder. And yet the state has failed to produce any physical evidence that Ms. Brantley is dead, much less murdered: there is no body, no crime scene, and no forensic evidence of any kind. There are no witnesses to a crime. No confessions. In short, there has been no evidence presented to me that an crime alleged has in fact been committed at all, much less that it was committed with premeditation by Mr. Brantley in Bradley County, Tennessee."
Brantley stood outside the Bradley County Justice Center briefly with his defense team and his daughter, Elise, who said she was elated by the decision.
Brantley was first arrested in 2013. He said at the time that his wife had left him and he was planning on getting a divorce.
It was later decided to drop the case in order to gather more evidence.
Brantley was arrested again on the murder charge in December 2016, though authorities did not say what new evidence had emerged.
At the time of the re-arrest, DA Crump said, “The Bradley County grand jury, in its October term, returned an indictment against Donnie Ray Brantley for first-degree murder in the premeditated murder of Marsha Brantley.
“It is our belief, and the grand jury found, that between the first day of May 2009, and the 31st of May 2009, that he committed the act that led to her death, and that that act was done in a premeditated and deliberate fashion.”
He also said, “I believe I have satisfied my professional responsibilities and that the case that was presented to the grand jury will be persuasive, but again that is the jury’s province, and I will leave it to them.”
Brantley was living in Cartersville, Ga., when he was re-arrested.
A crew from the CBS News program 48 Hours is in town filming the trial.
A number of other media outlets were at the courts building.
Jury selection had been set to start on Monday morning and jurors were present. They were dismissed prior to the district attorney announcing his decision.
Attorney Davis said he had been prepared to try the case after spending months rounding up witnesses from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.