On January 16th, 2009, Linda Bonner found her husband Franklin, known as Kookie, duct-taped to a chair with duct tape over his mouth and nose. He wasn’t breathing, so a panicked Linda called 911. It appeared that Franklin Bonner was murdered during a robbery. Franklin & Linda lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Franklin was known as “the lottery man” (Jacob, 2020) because he often had cash on him. Linda and Franklin also dealt small amount of marijuana in their community. Franklin had signs of blunt force trauma to his body, but the medical examiner determined the cause of death to be suffocation.
The original investigation in 2009 did not yield any indictments, but there were some clues. First, a woman named Shirley Bumpass had called Franklin that morning. She lived approximately two miles away and stated she knew Kookie. She told authorities she purchased marijuana from Kookie on the day of his murder. She was considered the last person to see Franklin alive. Police also found fingerprints on the duct tape but could not match the prints to anyone in the system.
The detective originally handling the evidence, in this case, was detective Karl Fields. The murder case went cold, but Karl Fields made headlines for other reasons. In 2016, Fields was accused of sexually harassing a rape victim, tampering with evidence, and gross misconduct (The Chattanoogan, 2016). Charges were filed against Fields, and he was fired from the police department. The charges were eventually dropped due to a lack of evidence.
Nine years after the murder, a woman now living in Kentucky failed to appear for a traffic ticket and was arrested on that warrant. Her fingerprints were taken and put into the system. They came back as a match to two of the prints on the duct tape that bound Franklin Bonner in 2009. The woman was Angel Bumpass.
Angel Bumpass was born on March 3rd, 1995, in Tennessee. Angel faced many challenges in her childhood as her mother was incarcerated and her father was not in her life. Many members of Angel’s family were incarcerated at one point or another including her grandmother with whom she lived, Shirley Bumpass. Shirley was interviewed in 2009 in connection with the murder and admitted, at that time, to buying marijuana from Franklin Bonner that day.
Angel was thirteen years old in 2009 and an eighth-grade student. Angel was a small petite girl standing 5’ tall and weighing just 80 pounds. She was a good student with a rough home life. She recalls nothing about that day in January and was shocked when she was arrested for felony murder in 2018. She claimed she had never met Franklin Bonner and had never been in his home.
Angel said on the tv show Accused: Guilty or Innocent that she wasn’t abused while living with her grandparents, but she never really felt loved either. She moved out as a teenager and started a new life. By 2018, Angel was the mother of two children and a student at Jefferson Community and Technical College. She was set to start the nursing program in August of 2018. Angel was a twenty-three-year-old with a bright future.
Angel’s plans for her future were put on pause when she was arrested in June of 2018 and charged with felony first-degree murder and aggravated robbery. The only evidence connecting Angel to the crime was two partial fingerprints that matched the sticky side of the duct tape. There were nine other prints and a hair found on the duct tape that did not match Angel Bumpass.
Authorities questioned Angel and tried to get her to share information about the crime. Her grandparents knew the victim and often bought marijuana from them. Her grandmother was considered to be the last person to see the victim alive. However, Angel swore she had no knowledge of the crime, had never been in the house, and didn’t even know the victim. She explained to authorities and her defense team that she couldn’t provide information on who committed the crime because she didn’t know that information.
Another breakthrough in the case came when a federal prisoner, convicted of a bank robbery, came forward with information about his cousin. His cousin, a man named Mallory Vaughn, allegedly told him that he burglarized the Bonner home and was the person who bound Mr. Bonner, causing his death. Later he changed his story, stating he became aware of the case through Detective Fields and was just trying to get his sentence reduced. However, Mallory Vaughn was arrested and charged as a co-defendant of Angel Bumpass.
Angel Bumpass claimed to never have met Vaughn, which he confirmed. He claimed he had never met Angel either. Despite this, the two defendants would be tried together. The trial began in Hamilton County, Tennessee in 2019. Angel was represented by Andrea Hayduk and Garth Best. The lack of evidence gave Angel the confidence that she would be acquitted, and her life would return to normal after the trial.
The prosecution presented the evidence of the fingerprints, claiming that the only way those fingerprints could be on the sticky side of the duct tape is if Angel was present at the time of the robbery. Angel’s grandmother was called to testify and denied seeing the victim that day. This contradictory testimony may have indicated that there was something to hide.
The defense presented evidence that nine other fingerprints were also present on that duct tape, casting doubt that Angel was present when the murder and robbery occurred. Angel was at school the day of the murder, arriving home around three in the afternoon, leaving only two hours for her to walk the two miles to Bonner’s home and commit the robbery and murder, leaving before Linda Bonner arrived home around five in the evening. The timeline casts doubt on the prosecution’s case.
The defense was prohibited from entering a phone call between Angel’s brothers into evidence in which the crime was discussed. The men discussed the charges against Angel and made statements like “think about it” and other vague wording that cast suspicion that they were involved in the robbery. This may have been beneficial to Angel’s case, but also may have implicated her in a family robbery conspiracy.
To explain the fingerprints on the duct tape, Angel’s grandfather testified that Angel often helped him in the garage and played with the rolls of duct tape. Her grandfather did handyman work for Franklin Bonner often and may have left duct tape at his home. The defense felt this was a plausible explanation for the fingerprint evidence. The duct tape had been destroyed in the years that the case was cold, so the fingerprints could not be re-examined to ensure the accuracy of the forensic examination.
On October 3rd, 2019, the jury returned verdicts in the trial against Mallory Vaughn and Angel Bumpass. Mallory Vaughn, who was only connected through recanted information, was found not guilty. Angel Bumpass was found guilty of felony first-degree murder and aggravated robbery. She was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole plus eight years for the robbery charge. She will not be eligible for parole until 2078, when she will be eighty-three years old.
Angel Bumpass is appealing her conviction, but the appeal process was delayed due to the covid-19 pandemic. There is currently a Change.org petition seeking support in Angel’s appeal process. According to the petition, only 12 of 150 ridges of a fingerprint have to match for the forensic examiner to determine it is a match (Change.org). The validity of forensic fingerprint evidence has led to the wrongful convictions of several people in the United States, who were later acquitted, including that of Lana Canen in Indiana (Chinn, 2012).
Also of concern, in this case, is the fact that Angel was only thirteen years old when the crime occurred. She was tried as an adult despite being a middle school student at the time of this murder. Angel’s supporters also believe that her original attorneys provided ineffective assistance of counsel. There is a Facebook group dedicated to seeking justice for Angel and reuniting her with her children.
While many feel Angel’s conviction is a gross miscarriage of justice, we should not forget about the victim either. Franklin Bonner was born on November 30th, 1940. He was a lifetime resident of Chattanooga. He was a father and grandfather. He was employed by the City of Chattanooga for thirty-one years before his retirement. If Angel Bumpass is innocent, Franklin Bonner’s relatives have not received justice.
Accused: Guilty or Innocent. (2020). Cold Case Killer or Innocent Teenage Girl?. Accused: Guilty or Innocent tv show, Season 1, Episode 4. Available on Discovery+
Change.org (accessed 2022). Demand a retrial for Angel Bumpass wrongfully convicted 13 year old with a life sentence. Petition · Demand a retrial for Angel Bumpass wrongfully convicted 13 year old with a life sentence · Change.org
Chin, J. (2012). Fingerprint expert’s mistakes lead to wrongful conviction in Indiana. Fingerprint Expert's Mistake Leads to Wrongful Conviction in Indiana - California Innocence Project
FindAGrave (accessed 2022). Franklin Augustus Bonner. Franklin Augustus Bonner (1940-2009) - Find a Grave Memorial
Jacob, R. (2020). Franklin Bonner murder case: everything we know. Franklin Bonner Murder: Who Are Mallory Vaughn and Angel Bumpass? (thecinemaholic.com)
Tennessee Department of Corrections (accessed 2022). Angel Camika Bumpass. Detailed Results (tn.gov)
The Chattanoogan (2016). Former Chattanooga police detective Karl Fields was indicted for tampering with evidence and official misconduct. Former Chattanooga Police Detective Karl Fields Indicted For Tampering With Evidence And Official Misconduct - Chattanoogan.com
Warnock, C. (2021). Angel Bumpass now: an update on her life & jail sentence. Heavy.com. Angel Bumpass Now: An Update on Her Life & Jail Sentence | Heavy.com