News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, February 23, 2011
MARTINEZ, Ga.---He confessed to killing his disabled mother, then he said he didn't do it. One jury convicted him, but at a second trial he was set free. So who killed Meridith Guy?
Eight years later, Tom Chumley says he is still looking for justice, and peace after his mother's murder. For the first time he's telling his story, and he's telling it only to News 12.
Tom Chumley describes the last eight years as a roller coaster. His mother is killed, he becomes the prime suspect, he cracks, confesses, spends years in prison, then is set free. Now, he says he's just trying to live his life.
Eight years ago this week, disabled grandmother Meridith Guy was gunned down in her Columbia County home. The 74-year-old was found executed in her hallway. She was shot once in the back and once in the head. Her wallet was untouched, the TV still on.
"It was difficult, we had very little to go on at first. We had our suspicions," explained Columbia County Sheriff's Captain Steve Morris.
Her son, Tom Chumley, says the morning his mother was murdered, she asked him to trim a tree in her yard.
"I told her I'd come back and clean it up for her, but I never made it back, and that bothered me," Tom said.
Tom began battling depression after the murder, and after a year passed and still no arrests, Tom says marriage problems, business trouble, pressure from investigators and stress led him to try and commit suicide.
Days after he tried to kill himself, Tom walked into the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and confessed to killing his mother.
On the tape Tom says, "I came up here and I'm willing to take responsibility for the murder of Ms. Meridith Guy."
"What happened when you shot her once?" asks the investigator on the confession tape. "She went to her knees and I shot her in the back of the head," Tom answers.
A jury found him guilty, and Tom was sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was later overturned when the Georgia Supreme Court found the judge gave his opinion to the jury. In a second trial, Tom was found not guilty and released.
"The jury and the evidence said I didn't do it. So let's move on," Tom said.
Tom claims, in his mind, his confession was part of a plan.
"I had a big whiteboard at my house, and I mind-mapped questions and answers, ideas and points, and I just went in...'I'm ready to pick a fight with you dudes, Bring it on,'" explains Tom.
"What do you mean by pick a fight? You were challenging them?" I asked.
"Yes," says Tom.
"I was there, I've seen the tapes, I've testified in court. I'm not sure what that statement means," said Capt. Morris.
"I wanted them to bring me to trial and I wanted them to see, I'm not the individual they were calling a murderer. Why waste their time? Because they wasted mine," Tom said.
Tom Chumley is a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran who lives in North Augusta. He's also an advocate for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, what he claims caused him to make up a confession.
"They were pushing me further and further away from my family, my work. I couldn't concentrate," Tom said.
Doctors Miriam Hancock and Kathryn Bottonari work with veterans suffering from PTSD.
"After the Vietnam War, people were so aware of this problem in the Vietnam veterans that it became called Post Vietnam Syndrome," Dr. Hancock said.
"We know that people have re-experiencing symptoms. So they have memories, nightmares, flashbacks. They respond to triggers," said Dr. Bottonari.
Chumley was a Navy Corpsman and worked as a medic. "I carried a weapon, I was part of firefights and I tried to bring my wounded back. That was I considered my main job, was bringing them home. Everyone that was killed in my unit, I took personally to the morgue to clean them, to send them home right with honor," Tom explained.
"Two main types of combat experiences that our folks really struggle with are having to survive being shot at, hunted, and killed and also having had to perpetuate death and killing," said Dr. Hancock.
"When I came back from 'Nam, it wasn't, 'How do you feel? How you doing?' and everything. 'What was the body count? How many did you really kill? Did you kill a child?'" Tom said.
Doctors say flashbacks are one of the most common symptoms of PTSD. "Seeing my mother in that bag when they took her out, the nightmares, the flashbacks, the pieces, the harassment of when we got off the plane. Everything started like dominoes effect and after a year I just couldn't take it anymore," Tom said.
Tom says he takes anti-depressants to control his PTSD.
"It's very important that people understand that PTSD can occur in very high functioning, safe, stable people," Dr. Hancock said.
News 12 first interviewed Tom four years before his mother's murder. In 1999, he was working at Camp Juliet, a free camp for children suffering from diabetes.
"You remember growing up the last kid picked in baseball? These kids sometimes are not even picked," Tom told News 12 in 1999.
"I loved it, but I haven't been there and I don't think--from what I've heard--they want me back. It's the name," Tom tells News 12 now.
Tom says that tarnished name also made it hard to find a job.
"Somebody might say something or word might get out that my last name would trigger...'Hey! This is that guy that killed his mother,'" he explained.
Tom believes his mother's killer is still out there. "It's going to be eight years, February 28th, and Columbia County has become nowhere near closer to solving the murder of my mother," Tom said.
"There's still a murderer walking these streets?" I asked.
"Yes there is, and it's not me," Tom responded.
"The person who's responsible for her death was arrested, and charged, and convicted and later released," saidCapt. Morris.
"Walking the streets?" I asked.
"Walking the streets," said Capt. Morris.
"No doubt in your mind Tom Chumley killed Meridith Guy?" I asked Capt. Morris.
"No, none. No doubt whatsoever," he replied.
"You could confess to me right now that you killed your mother and you could not be re-tried for that crime," I said.
"Correct," Tom said.
"Did you kill your mother?" I asked.
"No, I did not kill my mother," Tom said.
The inside and outside of the home may look different, but eight years later, that same tree still stands tall.
"What I failed to do was what I promised her. I didn't come back that day and take a look at that tree, and that has haunted me. Because I could have...I may have...I might've stopped it," Tom said.
"If your mother was sitting right here today, what would be the first thing you would say to her?" I asked Tom.
"I'll be back to cut the tree," Tom said.
Today Tom lives in North Augusta and works installing water gardens. He says he spends the majority of his time at home or walking his dog. He's still working with a therapist and a group of other veterans to curb his PTSD.
Tom says he has his own theories of who killed is mother. He claims it was whoever had the most to gain from her death, but he would not share his theories with us.