Man Accused of Medically Impossible Murder

Police said James Suttle was guilty, but experiment shows crime was impossible.

ByABC News
March 1, 2010, 7:06 PM

March 2, 2010— -- When James Suttle was arrested for first-degree murder in January 2001, it was a dramatic turnaround for a man who until that moment seemed to be living a golden life.

Suttle left the town of Pulaski, Tenn., as a teenager and headed to Las Vegas, where he became a high-stakes professional gambler and entrepreneur. He hadn't been back to Pulaski in nearly 20 years, but he returned in part to see his cousin Stevie Hobbs.

"Me and Stevie were inseparable," Suttle, 49, said.

But during his October 1998 visit, Suttle was awakened by Hobbs, who rushed into his bedroom and appeared to be having some kind of attack.

"The first thing I remember was him trying to call my name," Suttle said. "He couldn't get my whole name out."

Suttle said his cousin had his hands in the air and spun in a full circle, before ultimately falling backward on top of a glass coffee table. When the table broke, one of the shards of glass entered Hobbs' back, apparently killing him.

Suttle called 911. But over the next few days, Suttle said he sensed police didn't believe his story.

"I could tell that they were trying to pin this off on me as a murder," he said.

When Suttle called his ex-wife Jacqueline Wernet and their daughter Jameline, Jacqueline was shocked.

"I couldn't believe it because I know how much he loves Stevie," said Wernet.

"My dad and Steve were so close," said Suttle's daughter, Jameline. "He was like an uncle to me, a brother to my dad."

Despite the close relationship between Hobbs and Suttle, Pulaski, Tenn., prosecutor Richard Dunavant said the case against Suttle kept escalating.

Suttle took a shower soon after his cousin's death, potentially washing off evidence before police could examine him.

Suttle's 911 call also raised eyebrows when he yelled: "Stevie! The glass, the glass! Wait, wait. That's glass."

"If the defendant and the victim were the only two present at the time that telephone call was made, why would the defendant make a comment like, 'Wait wait that's glass?'" said Chief John Dickey.

Many in the small town of Pulaski believed Suttle was guilty, even some members of his own family. But it was medical examiner Dr. Charles Harlan who seemed to seal Suttle's fate.

Harlan laid out the critical timeline: The wound, he said, was inflicted shortly before death, and he testified that it was no accident. Hobbs didn't die from a seizure or even a shard of glass, but from deliberate murder.

In the autopsy report, Harlan wrote that the cause of death was a stab wound. "By examination of the wound," he said, "we were able to determine that the wound was caused by an instrument" similar to a pair of scissors.

Harlan said he had "absolutely no question in [his] mind" that it was murder.

"That changed the entire complexion of the case," said Judge Jim Hamilton, who presided over it. "You've got a homicide on your hands."