published Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Parents acquitted in death of child

Samantha Wallace and Thomas Wallace sit in Judge Rebecca Stern's courtroom Tuesday on the first day of their trial.
Samantha Wallace and Thomas Wallace sit in Judge Rebecca Stern's courtroom Tuesday on the first day of their trial.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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It took a jury an hour to acquit Samantha and Thomas Wallace of homicide charges in the accidental shooting death of their 2-year-old daughter by her 5-year-old stepbrother.

Defense attorney Dan Ripper said the case never should have gone to trial.

"It was a horrible, horrible accident," Ripper said minutes after the verdict Wednesday afternoon. "But what the jury's decision was, was that it was not a crime."

"But you know, it won't be the end of it for them. Their child is still dead. Nothing that happened today brings [Camron Wallace] back. It was just was a way of prolonging their pain for three years."

Ripper represented Samantha Wallace, 28. Assistant District Public Defender Steve Brown represented Thomas Wallace, 25, during the two-day trial.

Brown said he was pleased with the outcome for his client and that the ordeal finally was over.

Prosecutor Charlie Minor declined to comment.

The Wallaces hugged supporters and cried as they rushed out of the courthouse. They also declined to comment.

Thomas Wallace took the stand in the case, and Minor pressed him about the loaded .45 caliber revolver left in a nightstand.

Wallace admitted he overslept that morning and forgot to move the gun to the closet, which he said he had done before that day. He said he was keeping the gun at the bedside because he was worried. He said a group of men had come onto the porch of his Tinsley Place home at about 2 or 3 a.m. three nights before.

Wallace said the gun had to be cocked to fire, but he stored it uncocked.

But Minor challenged the testimony.

"That gun was cocked, wasn't it?" Minor asked

"No, sir," Thomas Wallace replied.

Minor said the 5-year-old boy had been caught playing with the revolver the day before and Wallace had whipped him for it.

The father denied Minor's assertion.

In closing statements, Minor told the jury, "There were absolutely no safety measures with this gun, none."

Both parents cried during emotional moments. When lawyers replayed recorded interviews and the Hamilton County Medical Examiner explained autopsy photographs and diagrams, the couple wiped away tears.

Minor pleaded with the jury to hold the parents culpable, despite the devastating loss of their child.

"You can't leave [guns] unattended. You can't leave them loaded and ready to go when you have small children," he said.

Ripper and Brown disputed much of Minor's characterization of events.

Brown told jurors during closing statements that despite all of the evidence, no one really knows what happened in the home on the day of Camron's death.

Each repeatedly asked jurors to see the choices that resulted in Camron's death from the Wallaces' point of view, not their own.

Testimony showed that Samantha Wallace was caring for the children that day and after lunch and baths they were sent to their rooms to nap. The boy asked to sleep in his parents' room because a broken window in his made the room hot.

A short time later the boy and the couple's older girl rushed to tell their mother that, "Cam-Cam is bleeding."

Samantha Wallace called 911, but the child was dead at the scene.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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