A Davidson County Criminal Court jury today found Jerome Barrett guilty of second-degree murder in the 1975 killing of Marcia Trimble. It imposed a sentence of 44 years.
The seven women and five men on the jury, nine of them white and three black, deliberated for nearly seven hours Friday and another two hours Saturday morning before reaching their verdict.
The key to the prosecution's case was the discovery of DNA on the murdered child's clothing that matched Barrett's with a probability of 6 trillion to one.
Judge Steve Dozier had instructed the jury to use the law in effect in 1975 as it considered the case and sentence. The death penalty was unconstitutional throughout the U.S. at the time the crime occurred.
Assistant Attorney General Tom Thurman, who has been working the case since 1990, said in a press conference that he was "extremely happy with the verdict for the Trimble family and for this community."
He said he was not disappointed that the jury came back with a second-degree rather than first-degree verdict. The 1975 legal standard to find that a murder was premeditated "was very convoluted and hard to understand," he said. "It really didn't matter," he added. "It was more about guilt or innocence, not punishment."
Reviewing the limited evidence that might account for Barrett's having been in the neighborhood, Thurman conceded that it may never be known just how he came to commit the crime. The prosecutor said one witness in 1975 did mention seeing a black man get off the bus at a stop near the scene of the crime on the day it happened, but that investigators have since been unable to identify that witness from police notes.
Thurman said that "all the other people" whose names have been floated over the years as possible suspects "can now hold their heads high. We now know who killed Marcia Trimble."
Virginia Trimble Ritter, mother of the murdered girl, said at the press conference that she is "content" with the verdict. "After 34 years, it's over."
Ritter said she can now go to the Children's Garden in Centennial Park, which memorializes the murdered children of Nashville, and say to her daughter: "You've known all this time, and now I know."
A hearing on September 4 will determine whether the sentence in this case will run concurrently or consecutively with the life sentence imposed on Barrett in January when he was convicted of the murder of Vanderbilt student Sarah Des Pres, also committed in 1975.