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Twisted Tennessee Coroner Had No Training and Violent Past

In the wake of his resignation as a Tennessee coroner, it was uncovered that Terry Jarnigan had no medical training and was previously convicted of violent crimes.

Just a short time after his civil rights were restored in the late 1990's, Jarnigan was appointed as the coroner of Cocke County, Tennessee. The position does not require medical training and provides the coroner with the authority to order autopsies be conducted by the Medical Examiner.

Jarnigan continued in the position without and interest until he attended an autopsy on November 2, 2014, at Newport Medical Center to determine whether a 39-year-old gunshot victim's death was suicide or homicide. According to a police affidavit, Jarnigan stuck two fingers into the bullet exit wound and was “twisting his finger” around in the head. Realizing he had brain matter on his fingers, he stuck it back into the wound and remarked, “oh, brains.”

The District Attorney's sought and obtained an injunction barring Jarnigan from disturbing or touching dead bodies or attending crime scenes. Following his resignation, Jarnigan's history came to light.

Formerly known as Terry Lee Lackey, Terry Lee Jarnigan, was convicted in 1977 of felonies including “willful injury by explosives,” arson, and detonation of explosives with intent to harm a person. Jarnigan was sentenced to at least 15 years in prison and his wife, Diane, was sentenced to 10 years.

The convictions stemmed from an incident on April 14, 1977, in Newport Tennessee. The couple had allegedly placed dynamite and a blasting cap wired to the parking lights into the car of Edna Stamey. She was targeted because she was allegedly going to turn her husband John into police for a bank robbery that used Jarnigan's gun for the heist.

Ms. Stamey lost both feet, broke her leg and right wrist, and had her hand mutilated when her Chevrolet exploded. She said her husband had picked her up in a shopping center parking lot and “shot out of the parking lot like a bullet” after he dropped her off back at her car, she told prosecutors.

Jarnigan's civil rights were restored after a court found had “the character of a person of honesty, integrity, respectability, and veracity.”

In the wake of his resignation, questions have arisen about cases Jarnigan oversaw. The family of Alex Heitman, 29, have sought an investigation into his death. Heitman was found with a gunshot wound in a remote woodlands in July 2011. His death, 70 miles from the home he shared with his pregnant wife, was ruled a suicide.

Jarnigan oversaw the scene for five hours, but no fingerprints ballistics, coroner's report, police report, or credible crime scene photos were taken, claims Heitman's family. The following day, people living near the scene found portions of Haitman's brain matter and a shotgun casing.

 “It's disturbing to know that someone like that [Jarnigan] was entrusted with such a sacred responsibility,” said Oak Ridge City Councilwoman Trina Baughn.

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