Claude Garrett: Tennessee man falsely jailed for 30 years dies just six months after being freed

Garrett had wrongfully been convicted of the arson murder of his girlfriend, Lorie Lee Lance, in 1993, but his verdict was overturned only on May 6, 2022

Claude Garrett: Tennessee man falsely jailed for 30 years dies just six months after being freed
Claude Garrett (L) relished his freedom after being exonerated, spending time with his grandson (R) and daughter Deana (Twitter/@LilianaSegura)
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NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE: A Tennessee man, who was wrongly jailed for three decades has died just few months after being freed from jail. Claude Francis Garrett, 66, had wrongfully been convicted of the arson murder of his girlfriend, Lorie Lee Lance, in 1993, but he was released from prison this year after the court overturned the verdict and debunked the evidence that led to his conviction.

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Garrett, who was freed from Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in May 2022, died on October 30 in his sleep at his home, criminal justice system journalist Liliana Segura confirmed on Wednesday, November 1. "There is no easy way to share this news. Claude Garrett died yesterday, less than 6 months after he was exonerated and released from prison. He appears to have died in his sleep. He was just short of his 66th birthday," Segura wrote in a Twitter thread mourning Garrett.

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"I don't have words yet; it's heartbreaking and deeply unfair. Claude spent 30 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. He fought so hard. He was patient, focused, and when the day finally came, careful not to exhale prematurely. Not until he knew the state wouldn't appeal,’ she continued. “Since then, and over the past 5 months, Claude relished his freedom. He enjoyed every moment with his daughter, Deana, and especially his grandson, who he absolutely adored.”

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Garrett was only 35 years old when his girlfriend Lance died in a fire at their Old Hickory home on Feb. 24, 1992. He told the investigators that he was sleeping when the fire started in their living room. He then immediately woke his girlfriend and asked her to leave the house from the front house. But she chose to head out from the back door which got stuck. Garrett soon came out and called firefighters while he tried to put the fire out with a hose. After the fire was eventually extinguished, firefighters located Lorie’s body in a utility room. The medical reports confirmed she had died from smoke inhalation.

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Investigators later alleged that scorch patterns at the fire scene reveal the fire was set deliberately. A jury sentenced him to life in prison but Garrett always maintained his innocence. After years of appeals, Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins overturned the verdict on May 6. He ruled that there was “clear and convincing” proof that the so-called evidence of arson had since been debunked as "junk science."

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Judge Watkins concluded: "The court is satisfied that (the) petitioner has presented clear and convincing evidence showing that no reasonable jury would have convicted Claude Garrett of felony murder in light of the new scientific evidence." Segura, also a friend of Mr. Garrett, said he was hoping to hold the state accountable for his lost time in prison. “Claude had plans. He wanted the state to be held accountable for his wrongful conviction,” tweeted. “He wanted compensation. It is unfathomable to me that the people most responsible for stealing so much of his life will never have to confront what they did, that they will outlive him,” reads the post by Segura who had met Garrett in September, four months after his release.

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