LAWRENCE COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — A Lawrence County Sheriff’s deputy is on leave after several bags of evidence from a 2009 murder case were discovered in an unsecured outbuilding of a home he once owned.
The evidence centers around Danny Owens, 69, who was convicted of killing his wife, Vicki, in February 2009 at their home in Lawrence County. Owens is serving a 20-year prison sentence on second-degree murder charges.
According to Greg Owens, Danny’s son, an acquaintance of his called him last week and told him that she made a surprising discovery in the outbuilding of the home she purchased a few months ago. She told him she found boxes and bags of evidence from the 2009 murder case involving his father and had recently purchased the home from the lead investigator in that murder case.
Greg Owens said he collected the items and then contacted law enforcement.
“She called me and I went over there and got it. A DA investigator and a lawman showed up to pick it up. She found a box of evidence that had 25 pieces of sealed evidence,” Owens said.
Owens said most of the bags were sealed, but two bags were opened, and the evidence inside missing. Owens said the bags described the evidence as a ring and a cell phone.
Owens showed News 2 several pictures of the evidence containers, which were brown with chain of custody clearly shown. They also had the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department labeled on them and the victims’ name, Vicki Owens, on them.
One bag described the contents as a shirt, sweat pants, slippers and other personal effects taken from the victim. Another bag appeared sealed with bright yellow evidence tape at the top. The date listed on the bag is February 9, 2009.
“My first thought is ‘Why is it out there? Was there something in there that proved his innocence that he was trying to hide? Was it a trophy? Was it for the money? Who knows,” Owens said. “Was it personal? I don’t know.”
Owens said the DA investigators were shocked when he delivered the bags of evidence to them.
“Yes, the DA investigator was pretty floored by it. It’s something you shouldn’t see.”
District Attorney Brent Cooper said his investigators are looking into the improperly stored evidence, adding that none of the evidence from the Owens murder case appears to have been tampered with. Cooper said it is unlikely that finding it in the outbuilding, regardless of how strange, will change the guilty verdict against Danny Owens.
Cooper said any evidence in a murder investigation must always be stored in a secured location and it can only be disposed of by a court order.
Lawrence County Sheriff John Myers was not the sheriff in 2009, but said the deputy involved in this case still works in his department. He said they have also launched an internal investigation into the matter and until they get to the bottom of what happened, that deputy is on administrative leave.
On Thursday, Sheriff Myers released the following statement that said in part:
“I can tell you that under this administration we have a very strict policy on the handling of evidence. Anytime evidence that is attached to a criminal offense is found outside of law-enforcement or court custody it is a concern. I am aware the DA’s office is looking into this matter and we are also looking at this internally.”
Owens said he stays in touch with his father in prison.
“We talk about every other week,” he said. “He’s doing good health wise.”
For Owens, questions remain unanswered. Why is murder evidence from his father’s case stored at the lead investigators unsecured home? Why is it subjected to extreme heat and cold possibly disintegrating evidence that he said might one day be used to exonerate his father?
Owens, a father of two, said the evidence bags bring back bad memories for his family.
“It does. It makes you think,” he said. “Was there something to hide? Something could have been in there to prove his innocence and set him free, you know. We’d just like to get some answers.”