The defense rested Friday morning in the trial of Jerome Sidney Barrett, charged in the 1975 murder of Green Hills schoolgirl Marcia Trimble, and each side presented its closing arguments in Davidson County Criminal Court.
Jurors late Friday deliberated for several hours before retiring for the night. They are set to resume on Saturday morning.
Assistant District Attorney Katy Miller first argued the state's case. Citing the testimony of former Trimble family neighbor Marie Maxwell, Miller said "she remembered that the taller person was wearing a long, drab coat. That's important." She recalled yesterday's testimony by former Berry Hill police officer Tommy Lunn to the effect that Barrett was wearing just such a coat when Lunn arrested him in March 1975.
The bulk of the prosecution's closing, however, revolved around the available physical evidence from the crime scene.
"This case is about science," Miller said. She reminded the jury of the testimony of former state medical examiner Jerry Francisco and decomposition expert William Bass that forensic evidence indicates the body had been in the garage throughout the 33 days she was missing.
The prosecutor also recounted the repeated efforts of police investigators since 1990 to crack the case through DNA analysis, with new possible clues emerging as DNA testing capabilities became more advanced. In 2004, the FBI identified the DNA of a possible perpetrator on the girl's blue-and-white checked shirt, Miller noted, holding up the shirt before the jury.
Miller could not tell the jurors why the police decided to obtain a DNA sample from Barrett in 2007, since the prosecution was not allowed to mention the February 1975 Sarah Des Prez murder for which Barrett is already serving a life sentence. But she explained how the FBI's crime lab samples yielded a 6 trillion-to-one match with Barrett.
"Use science to convict the guilty in this case," Miller concluded.
Lead defense attorney Jim McNamara then took the floor. His closing offered jurors a variety of reasons to doubt the case presented against his client.
"There is a danger in this courtroom right now," McNamara said. "There is a danger that an innocent man could be convicted of a crime he didn't commit."
In the desperate effort over the course of 34 years to solve the case, McNamara argued, "tunnel vision set in. Facts that were inconsistent with the theory that Mr. Barrett was responsible for this crime were ignored."
McNamara noted that "no one who was interviewed gave a description of anybody that resembled Mr. Barrett" in the weeks after the girl went missing.
He suggested that the body had not been in the garage the whole time and that the arrest of Barrett on March 12 limited his opportunity to commit the crime and move the body.
"You have to be able to reconcile all of the evidence in this case," McNamara told the jury.
McNamara said the fact that the state put on convicted criminals as witnesses showed that its DNA evidence did not make it an open-and-shut case. "They felt like they needed direct evidence because they knew they had trouble with their circumstantial proof." The attorney asked the jury to "completely discount" the jailhouse snitch testimony.
"Your reason and your common sense will tell you that the state has not carried its burden of proof," McNamara concluded. "Ladies and gentlemen, it won't bring justice to Marcia Trimble to convict an innocent man."
Lead prosecutor Tom Thurman then addressed the jury in a final summation. "How did Jerome Barrett's semen get on that blouse?" he asked, noting that McNamara had not addressed that question in his argument.
Thurman devoted several minutes to a task more commonly undertaken by defense attorneys: casting doubt on some of the evidence. He posited a number of scenarios that could account for the number of different DNA profiles found on slides of what a medical examiner in 1975 thought was semen in the child's vagina. Barrett's DNA was not found on the slides, which Thurman had tried in a pre-trial motion to have excluded as evidence.
"We'll probably never know how or why Mr. Barrett went to that neighborhood," Thurman said. "We know he's a predator, and predators look for prey."
"This case is about that little girl right there," Thurman finally told the jurors, as the last photo ever taken of Marcia alive was projected on a screen in the courtroom – a group picture from a birthday party five days before her disappearance.
"It's time for justice."
The jury was dismissed for lunch break. Judge Dozier will issue final instructions to it after lunch, and it will begin to decide Barrett's fate.