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DNA helps tab Bluff City murder suspect

Rain Smith • Sep 11, 2018 at 11:36 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Surveillance footage and bloody clothing helped investigators make an arrest in last month's murder of a Bluff City man, according to court documents.

Late Monday, James Lee Fagans, 59, was booked into the Sullivan County jail. He is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Herman Rumley, 71. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says the two men were acquaintances.

On Aug. 10, Rumley was found deceased in the living room of his home on Woods Road. According to an affidavit filed by a TBI agent, Rumley died as the result of blunt force trauma to the head.

Following "numerous interviews" with individuals who were close to Rumley, investigators reportedly pinpointed Fagans as someone who could move the case forward. The TBI first interviewed Fagans three days after Rumley's body was discovered.

According to court records, Fagans said he had not recently been to Rumley's residence and had last seen him on Aug. 5. He allegedly told investigators that he last spoke with Rumley by phone on Aug. 7, three days before his body was found.

In subsequent interviews, Fagans reportedly continued to deny any recent contact with Rumley. However, through interviews with another individual, the TBI reportedly discovered that Fagans was at Rumley's home the day before the murder was discovered.

The TBI agent reports that surveillance footage was obtained from a local, unspecified business, showing the clothing Fagans was wearing on that day. A search warrant was obtained for those clothes, with the articles then sent to the TBI crime lab in Knoxville. Examination reportedly found blood matching  Rumley’s.

During a Sept. 5 interview with Fagans, the TBI presented him with their findings, then later obtained a warrant for his arrest. 

Investigation of the murder was handled by the TBI at the request of Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus. One reason is because Rumley had a pending civil suit against employees of the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office — claiming deputies assaulted him at his home — and Staubus didn’t want anyone to perceive a possible conflict of interest. Early on in the investigation, Staubus stated the death investigation is not related to the lawsuit.

Staubus added that the “nature of the scene” also merited use of the TBI’s mobile crime lab. Court records indicate numerous areas of Rumley's living room were stained with blood.

Investigation into the case is continuing.

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