Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced executive clemency decisions on Dec. 2 for 17 individuals who have demonstrated a successful path to rehabilitation and established a new process for individuals seeking clemency for drug-free school zone convictions.
Grundy County man Adam Braseel was included in the action. Braseel, who worked in Coffee County at the time of his arrest, was convicted in 2007 of murdering Malcolm Burrows, and spent 12 years in prison before new evidence came to light that called into question the conviction.
Braseel told the Times on Thursday night that the vindication was a long time coming.
“It’s been a very long time coming. Normally I say I’m a patient man, I deserve it. (As a Christian I believe), I’m undeserving and unworthy for a lot of things, but of this, to be completely innocent and then to go through all I’ve been through, I’m so deserving of this day,” Braseel said.
Braseel got the call early Thursday morning. The incredible news came directly from the governor.
“Gov. Bill Lee called me at about 8 o’clock and informed me that he has the power to grant clemency, a pardon, and even exonerate. He said that I met the criteria to be exonerated. He believes in my innocence. After he (said) that, he declared that I was fully exonerated,” Braseel said.
Braseel’s case, study in wrongful convictions
The wheels of justice turn slowly, but in Braseel’s case, it seems like that wheel was determined to squash an innocent man.
In 2007, Braseel was convicted for murder and has spent 12 years in jail – even though no physical evidence placed him at the scene of the crime. It was a case of mistaken identity.
Braseel’s conviction had been overturned once and a new trial was ordered by Circuit Judge Justin Angel on Dec, 25, 2015. However, the state Court of Criminal Appeals overruled that decision 10 months later and sent Braseel back to prison.
In 2018, new fingerprint evidence came to light that would have impacted the jury’s decision had it been presented at the original trial. Then in March 2019, Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum made a statement that Braseel deserved a new trial due to the new physical evidence and the “absolute travesty” of how the initial investigation was carried out.
On June 24, 2020, the Tennessee Board of Parole voted unanimously to recommend Governor Bill Lee exonerate Braseel.
Braseel credits his sister and an army of supporters that have made his freedom possible.
“She’s a warrior, I call her my superrific sister. In the midst of opposition, she kept going. Literally, they could have killed her to hush her up. I would have had no one,” Braseel said.
“She didn’t care about the risks to herself, she continued to fight, persevere and it’s paid off. She wouldn’t quit until I was exonerated.”
Braseel admits the case is complicated.
“(Private investigator) D.K. Sales came in and offered a lot. He turned things upside down in a good way. He got people to talk, and find out information and shed a lot of light on the case. He made a big, big difference.
“I’m so blessed. There are so many people out there trying to prove their innocence so that they can justly be free as I am. There’s people who are innocent who are free, but not exonerated. It’s taken a long time. The wheels of justice turn ever so slowly. There’s process, there’s procedures, it's unfair sometimes,” he said.
Braseel is humbled by how many people have stepped up to help his cause.
“The governor, the governor’s board, the sheriff, the mayor, the TBI, you name it. It’s powerful. But because I had all this in my favor, it (still) didn’t mean I’d ever get to come home. It could have taken a lot longer, and it didn’t have to work out like it did for me,” Braseel said.
“I’m so fortunate… This is a story (of going) against the odds. We’ve fought and persevered. God’s provided, and we’re conquerors,” Braseel said.
“They had unlimited resources, and we’re just everyday average people. Because of people’s heart and compassion, people got involved and didn’t compromise and made that difference,” he said.
“There’s a lot of things that we should be doing everyday, but we don’t; we compromise. When dealing with something so overwhelming and inconvenient, we compromise,” Braseel said, noting that his sister, who he calls his hero, never stopped fighting for him.