News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday February 24, 2011
MARTINEZ, Ga.---Eight years ago this week, a disabled grandmother was gunned down in her Columbia County home. After suspicious behavior, her son became the prime suspect.
Investigators caught a break a year later when that son walked into their office and confessed to murdering his mother. One jury convicted him, but at a second trial he was found not guilty.
Now for the first time, Tom Chumley is telling his story, only to News 12.
Eight years after he confessed to the unthinkable, Tom Chumley is a free man, although the Sheriff's Office still believes he took the life of the woman who gave him his.
February 28, 2003 was the day a quiet, modest Columbia County home became a crime scene. Neighbors were shocked to hear a disabled grandmother had been shot twice in her home.
"I was shocked," said one neighbor in 2003. "This here is getting a little bit too close for comfort," added another.
74-year-old Meridith Guy was battling emphysema and confined to an oxygen tank. Her daughter Martha couldn't reach her on the phone, so she sent someone to check on her. Meridith was found kneeling in the hallway in a pool of blood. She was shot once in the back, once in the head. Photos show the TV still on, the newspaper still open on the coffee table.
"It was a huge case," Columbia County Sheriff's Captain Steve Morris recalled.
The house wasn't ransacked, and nothing was stolen. Investigators believed the normally cautious woman had to know her killer.
"She let someone in her home that she knew; there was no struggle," said Capt. Morris.
Investigators began zeroing in on Meridith's son. At the time, 52-year-old Tom Chumley had little contact with his mother. He paid some of her bills, and he owned the home she lived in, but the two rarely spoke. Then investigators learned Tom stopped by her home the day she was murdered.
"What was your relationship with your mother like?" I asked Tom.
"My mother is a--was a very private individual. She was strong-willed. I wasn't a star son, but I took care of my mother," Tom replied.
Tom says he felt the target growing on his back as investigators tracked his every move with surveillance pictures. He began having marriage and business problems and says stress led to a suicide attempt and a 911 call:
"This is dispatch, how may I help you?" the dispatcher answered.
"I'm, uh, in the process of, uh, of overdosing," responded Tom.
"What's your address?" she asked.
"3024 Angela Street," Tom said through tears.
"Is there anyone else there with you?"
"Okay, did you take anything?"
"Oh yeah," Tom responded. "I just can't take this harassment...I want to be arrested for the murder of Ms. Meridith C. Guy...to get this thing over with."
Tom told me about the suicide attempt. "For the first time in my life, I just gave up. I quit, and I don't do that. I don't quit." He continued, "They say they had to actually drag me out of the house and put me on a stretcher, and I was very, very close to the edge. I don't remember it."
A week later, exactly 13 months after Meridith Guy's murder, Tom Chumley walked into the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and confessed to killing her.
On a recording made that day, Tom says, "I came up here, and I'm willing to take responsibility for the murder of Ms. Meridith Guy."
"There's nothing forced, we took a willing statement. He was articulate. He told the same story twice," Capt. Morris said.
In two confessions, Tom Chumley describes some disturbing details with absolutely no emotion.
"That afternoon I ended her life," Tom tells investigators on tape. "She turned, I turned behind her and shot her once."
"What happened when you shot her once?" asks one investigator. "She went to her knees and I shot her in the back of the head," answers Tom.
There were also some odd responses during the nearly hour-long confession.
"I do not feel that I'm safe on the streets and I do not want to hurt anyone. Either put me in jail--now--or leave me alone," he says.
"What got you in the frame of mind where you decided to end her life?" asks the investigator. "That, I have no answer to," says Tom.
"How are you sure that you ended your mother's life? That you killed your mother?" the investigator asks. "I'm a good shot," Tom replies.
Ballistics reports show Meridith Guy was killed with .22 caliber bullets. Similar bullets were found in a search of Chumley's home.
"What about the weapon you used?" the investigator asks Tom during the confession. "It's been disposed of," he answers.
"What make/model?" they ask. "Double barrel single action .22 Derringer," he answers.
Despite never finding that weapon or nailing down a motive, investigators charged Chumley with murder.
At his trial, Chumley recanted his confession. A jury found him guilty, and Chumley was sentenced to life in prison.
Five years later, Chumley's conviction was overturned when the Georgia Supreme Court found that Judge Carlisle Overstreet expressed his opinion that Chumley's confessions were freely and voluntarily given, something the jury must decide on its own.
"It would frustrate anyone," said Capt. Morris.
Chumley was given a second trial. This time, a jury said he didn't do it. He was set free.
"When I got released from prison, that Friday afternoon, aw, that was great! I slept outside for a couple of nights because I could see stars," Tom recalled.
"Arguably, we have the best criminal justice system in the world, but it's not perfect," Capt. Morris said. "We put a good case together, we presented it. He was convicted, later was overturned, what can you say?"
Tom Chumley now claims that confession was part of a bigger plan. I asked Tom, "Why would anyone confess to murdering their mother if they didn't do it?"
This is part one of a two part series, to see part two click the link above.