Coroner resigns after being banned from crime scenes

After what he did to a dead man's body last month, Coroner Terry Jarnigan better stay away from any and all crime scenes and dead bodies in Cocke County.

After what he did to a dead man's body last month, Coroner Terry Jarnigan better stay away from any and all crime scenes and dead bodies in Cocke County.

That's the ruling from Cocke County Circuit Court Judge Ben Hooper, following a request for help by Fourth Judicial District Attorney General James "Jimmy" Dunn's office.

10News learned Jarnigan signed his letter of resignation late Tuesday, which goes into effect immediately, according to Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger.

Hooper on Monday signed an order for permanent injunctive relief barring the coroner from disturbing or touching dead bodies, touching evidence or going to crime scenes. Coroners often go to scenes and view bodies as part of their work.

Jarnigan, however, has been going too far, according to court documents.

Last month, according to records, he stuck his finger Nov. 2 into the head wound of a shooting victim.

According to an affidavit from Cocke County law officers, Jarnigan showed up at Newport Medical Center. Authorities were just beginning their investigation into the death of the suspect, who had been found with a gunshot wound to the head.

"At the scene it appeared that the death was a suicide, however I sought approval form the District Attorney's Office to have the body autopsied to help to confirm whether the death was a suicide or homicide," according to an affidavit from Cocke County Sheriff's Lt. Robert Thornton.

While examining the body, Jarnigan stuck two fingers into the place where a bullet had exited victim's head. When he realized there was brain matter on his fingers, he put it back into the wound, according to the affidavit, making a comment like, "Oh, brains."

According to Detective Paula Wilson, who also was at the hospital, she was about to take forensic photos of the victim to better help the investigation. Jarnigan was told that the body would be sent out for an autopsy and that a test to check for gunshot residue also had been requested.

It's typical practice to refrain from altering a body in an investigation to prevent spoiling potential evidence.

According to Wilson, Jarnigan "began twisting his finger around" in the head wound. Wilson stated she left the room at that point.

Deputy District Attorney General Brownlow Marsh alleges in documents filed Nov. 19 that Jarnigan shows up uninvited at crime scenes and contaminates evidence.

County coroners work under the auspices of counties in Tennessee.

Cocke County's medical examiner is Dr. David McConnell. As medical examiner, it's his job to request determine cause of death.

Some counties use coroners; some do not.

In 1977, while known as Terry Lackey, Jarnigan was convicted among other felony counts of "willful injury by explosives" and arson and detonation of explosives with intent to harm a person. He eventually changed his name to Terry Jarnigan.

In 2002, Jarnigan petitioned for restoration of citizenship rights that he lost with his felony convictions.

In restoring the rights, the court found that he had "sustained and maintained the character of a person of honesty, integrity, respectability and veracity." The court also noted he was a "family man, a longtime member of the Rescue Squad, Squad Man of the Year 2001 and has been appointed in the coroner position of Cocke County, Tennessee," according to records.


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