Court order: Charges dropped against Alabama murder suspect because state didn’t provide DNA evidence to defendant
Published 8:06 am Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Murder, rape and sodomy charges were dropped against a man accused of killing a Muscogee County woman because the state refused to provide DNA data to the defendant, according to a court order filed Tuesday by Circuit Court Judge Steven Perryman.
District Attorney Jeremy Duerr had announced Tuesday that charges against Stacey Gray were dismissed in Alabama following a court ruling that excluded all the DNA evidence found on the body of the victim, Renee Eldridge, who was abducted from her Columbus home in 2015.
In the order filed at 7:49 p.m. Tuesday, Perryman clarified that a motion was brought forth by Gray’s counsel seeking to exclude certain DNA evidence “due to the State’s failure to comply with a discovery order concerning said evidence.”
Perryman’s order says that on Feb 27, 2017, Gray’s attorney requested the raw data and processed date related to the case that the State of Alabama had in its possession.
The defense then filed a motion to exclude DNA on Jan. 20, 2020, alleging that the State of Alabama had “refused to provide the requested DNA data.”
Per Perryman’s order, since this is a capital murder case, the defendant is entitled to all evidence in the possession of the State of Alabama.
On Jan 14, in lieu of the court granting the defense motion, the State of Alabama was ordered to deliver to Gray’s counsel the requested DNA data within ten days from the date of the order. The order also said the State of Alabama would be prohibited from utilizing “in any way” DNA evidence in the trial if it failed to comply.
“The State willingly violated this order and to this day, some one hundred and thirty days later has failed to comply,” states the order signed by Perryman on Tuesday.
On the day of the trial – June 1 – the State acknowledged that it had not provided the DNA data and said the failure to comply was due to the inability to comply or unwillingness to comply with the court’s prior order.
“The court could only conclude that the failure of the State to comply with the court’s order on Jan 14, 2021, was either willful or due to incompetence,” Perryman said in the June 1 order.
Perryman wrote that the inaction by the state placed the defendant in a position where it would have been impossible for the defendant’s DNA expert to analyze the data.
“The actions or inactions of the District Attorney’s office alone resulted in the necessity to grant the defendant’s Motion in Limine,” the court order reads.
Duerr said Tuesday that the district attorney’s office is working with other agencies about the case.
“Without this key evidence, it became impossible to prove our case in an Alabama court, and we are actively seeking the assistance of other agencies to see that justice is not similarly suppressed,” Duerr said in a statement.
Although he didn’t specify which agencies, the family believes the case may be tried in Columbus, Georgia. Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones also told WRBL on Tuesday that he’s considering filing charges against Gray in Columbus.
“All of the charges were dismissed in the State of Alabama because they believe that this should be a Columbus case,” said Eldridge’s sister, Nicole Hawk.
The family says their only hope for justice lies with the hope that Columbus will pick up the case.
“All we can do is just hope and pray Columbus does something,” Hawk said. “We need them. That’s the only way we will get justice.”
According to previous reports, Gray was accused of forcing Eldridge from her home in Columbus during the early morning hours of July 5, 2015. Her body was discovered two days later by Valley Police beneath the Osanippa Creek Bridge on Hopewell Road. Her cause of death was later determined to be blunt force trauma.
A witness told Valley police they had seen a dark-colored SUV parked on the bridge during the early morning hours before Eldridge’s body was found, and a black male was observed looking over into the creek. Per previous reporting, after interviewing family and friends of the victim, authorities developed information linking Gray to the crime, including his ownership of a dark-colored SUV.
U.S. Marshals assisting with the case spotted Gray’s vehicle a week later near Notasulga and attempted a traffic stop. However, Gray was able to escape on foot into a wooded area, where he remained at large for ten hours before being captured. Agencies participating in the search included the Valley, Opelika and Columbus police departments, Chambers and Macon County sheriff’s departments, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and U. S. Marshals Service.
Elridge’s aunt, Lisa Bryant, said the family traveled to Chambers County on Tuesday thinking there was going to be a trial, only to find out otherwise.
“The last six years for this family has just been pure hell waiting for this one day to come, for this man to go to prison for the murder of our family member, only to come here today to find out that [the trial] didn’t happen,” Bryant said.