A Grundy County jury reached a verdict last Thursday, after three days of testimony in the Shelby Comer murder trial. The jury believed evidence pointing to Holmes’ gunshot as the cause of death of 20-year-old Comer in 2017, and found Holmes guilty of criminally negligent homicide.
A tale of two autopsies
In what may have come down to a tale of two autopsies, jurors heard testimony on the first day of the trial from the State’s medical examiner who listed a gunshot wound on Comer’s left torso as the cause of death. Later in the trial, jurors heard from another medical examiner hired by the defense to review the original autopsy report. His report and testimony attributed Comer’s cause of death to the substantial amount of methamphetamine found in her body at the time of her death.
Acquitted of voluntary manslaughter
Holmes was originally charged with voluntary manslaughter, but was acquitted of that charge by Judge Rusty Graham after the State rested. Left on the table were charges of reckless homicide and criminally negligent homicide.
In closing arguments, the State said Comer’s death was a case of reckless homicide, explaining “it’s still reckless for him to fire once, much less five times.”
Holmes’ attorneys argued that their client acted within department regulations.
“This is a tragic case, a tragic story, meth destroys families, but Mike Holmes isn’t responsible for that.”
Almost a mistrial
The case was sent to the jury after closing arguments, and there seemed to be some disagreement among jurors. After over three hours of deliberation, the jury foreperson informed Judge Graham that they could not come to a unanimous decision. The judge re-read the requirements for guilt in each charge and the jury retired for further deliberations. After another hour, they returned with a finding of not guilty as to reckless homicide and guilty as to criminally negligent homicide. This decision means that all twelve jury members did not consider Holmes’ actions of the night of Comer’s death to be reckless homicide, the more serious of the two charges, but did believe it was his gunshot that killed Comer.
Reactions to the verdict
Neither family was pleased with the decision. Comer’s family told News Channel 9 that they are relieved the jury believed Holmes’ gunshot caused Comer’s death, but do not feel she received justice. Holmes’ family, crying as the verdict was read, have stated that the outcome was “completely unexpected.”
Shortly after the jury reached its decision, Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum released the following statement:
”We will immediately review all our options as an agency as I am sure Mike’s defense team will do the same. The sadness of this case exists in the facts that Shelby Comer is still dead and the man that assisted her will never be brought to justice. Even sadder, a deputy serving his community, trying to shield it from the meth epidemic and criminals like Jacky Wayne Bean, will not be allowed to protect and serve the place he called home. Mike Holmes is the father of two boys, a beloved son, a community servant and a friend to all his co-workers. Today is a sad day for law enforcement across this state and a dark day for Grundy County. We will never stop or even slow down the war on drugs if we keep blaming those who are fighting to keep us from it.”
Sheriff Shrum also stated that Mike Holmes had been relieved of his duties at the Sheriff’s Office.
On Monday, Sheriff Shrum, understanding that tensions were still high from the verdict, said, “This has been a tough case for everyone. It has taken its toll on the families and friends involved, but now it’s time to start healing. My heart goes out to the Comer family and the Holmes family. I certainly wished all of this would have ended differently for everyone. We all have different feelings and opinions on what did happen and what should have happened but none of those will change anything at this point. My prayer is that we all find peace as we seek our comfort in this time of solitude.”
Holmes will learn his sentence on April 3. Holmes was found guilty of Class E felony that carries a prison term of one to two years. His attorneys have said they are looking at the options for appeal.