HOHENWALD, Tenn. – Detective Tony Grasson thought he was about to take a deathbed confession when he visited a hospital last month to talk to a man on the run from a murder charge since 1977.
James Brewer was lying in a hospital bed in Shawnee, Okla., struggling to speak after suffering two strokes within a year. A relative of Brewer's had told authorities that he might be ready to talk about a fatal shooting more than three decades ago in Tennessee, a crime with which Brewer had been charged.
But between his difficulty speaking and his wife's admonishment against discussing the case, Brewer stopped short of saying he'd committed a crime.
"I guess he wanted to cleanse his soul because he was crying," said Grasson, who's on the police force in Shawnee. "He was torn between listening to her and wanting to speak."
While he didn't confess, Brewer agreed to return to Tennessee to face a first-degree murder charge that could put him behind bars for the rest of his life. Now the frail 58-year-old is in a central Tennessee jail, awaiting a judge's decision Monday on whether to release him on bond.
If he remains in custody, Lewis County Sheriff Dwayne Kilpatrick wants him moved to a state prison hospital better equipped to care for him. Brewer remains very sick and gets his nourishment through a feeding tube.
The family of the victim, Jimmy Carroll — who authorities say Brewer was suspicious of because he thought Carroll was having a relationship with his wife — says Brewer deserves no sympathy for only now facing his past so he can ease his conscience before he dies.
Authorities say James and Dorothy Brewer left Tennessee for Oklahoma in and haven't seen or talked to family since. Their return to Tennessee has opened old wounds for the victim's family, who blame both Brewers for Carroll's death.
Sheriff Kilpatrick said the shooting happened when Brewer found out about the affair and confronted Carroll at a service station on April 27, 1977.
The original police report says Brewer shot Carroll twice, then drove off and left him to die, Kilpatrick said.
Shortly before Brewer was to stand trial, he and his wife disappeared.
They lived for a short time in Nashville before heading to Texas. In Texas, Brewer began using another name, Michael Anderson, and was able to get a new Social Security number, which was easier to do in the 1970s, Kilpatrick said. Dorothy went by her maiden name, Powers, he said.
The couple spent most of their life in the same home in Shawnee, about 30 miles outside Oklahoma City. He worked as a machinist at a factory called Central Plastics until his first stroke about a year ago, according to police.
But the second stroke this year may have been the motivation to surrender and finally reunite with family members still in Tennessee, said Jerry Colley, Brewer's original attorney in 1977 who is representing him again.
"He's so sick," Colley said. "I just think he wanted to come home to his family."
Carroll's family members say they feel like they've been given a second chance for justice. They want charges filed against Dorothy Brewer for what they say was her role in the shooting and for helping her husband hide from authorities.
Dorothy Brewer, who is staying with family members and declined to talk with The Associated Press, was charged by police in 1977 but the grand jury never indicted her, according to Kilpatrick.
Kilpatrick said some information from the original investigation has been lost over the years, including the charge against Dorothy Brewer and information about whether she was at the scene of the killing.
Brenda Buie, one of Carroll's sisters, has dug up newspaper archives and old arrest records and says there's no doubt in her mind that Dorothy Brewer was there.
"They drove up together at the station and they went there with the intention of killing him," Buie said. "She needs to face charges, too."
Several witnesses who were in the service station are still alive and authorities still have the gun used in the shooting. Kilpatrick said investigators have a solid case against Brewer, and they're in the process of interviewing the witnesses again.
Carroll's death left his two young sons without a father and his sisters grieved 32 years without a resolution. They worry that Brewer's poor health could mean they won't see a resolution in the case.
"If it's put off and put off, he'll die and the case will be closed," Buie said.
Colley said he hasn't discussed with Brewer whether he'll agree to a plea deal, but he hopes prosecutor will consider his health when deciding how to proceed with the case.
"It's a new ball game," Colley said.