In 1979, Ernest Harrell Hulsey was found dead, shot in the chest inside the garage at his used car lot.
For 29 years, authorities said no one came forward with any details about who killed Hulsey. It wasn't until April 2008, when a local television channel aired a segment on the cold case, prompting a tip to the Walker County Sheriff's Office, that the case was reopened.
Police finally found evidence that Jimmy Cardin Jr. and Hulsey had been arguing about a dogfight, Sheriff Steve Wilson said. Detectives believe Cardin drove to Hulsey's shop -- Sonny's Used Cars off McFarland Avenue in Rossville -- with his dog Champ in the bed of his truck.
Detectives believe Cardin walked into the garage, fired two shots at Hulsey then drove off. None of the employees at the scene could explain what happened, Wilson said.
In the year after the case was reopened, Cardin was interviewed multiple times, and he took and failed a polygraph. Detectives were almost ready to take out a warrant for his arrest in April 2009, when the unexpected happened.
On Battlefield Parkway, the 59-year-old Cardin was seen speeding and driving recklessly, a Georgia State Patrol report shows. His Ford Ranger struck the back of a F-150 pickup, throwing Cardin's truck into the median before it jutted out into oncoming traffic. A third truck clipped Cardin's pickup, which spun into a compact car before he was ejected, records show. He died on impact.
With Cardin's unexpected death, the sheriff's office had no reason to go any further with the case. But this year, detectives turned it over to the Lookout Mountain District Attorney's Office to see if the case could be closed.
District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin wrote an opinion stating that "there would have been sufficient evidence to prosecute [Cardin] for the murder."
Even without the conviction, Wilson said, the detectives can close the case.
"It's a little unusual," Wilson admits. "But [Hulsey's family] is pleased that someone, even though they're deceased, is held responsible for the death."
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...