NASHVILLE - Just hours after a nurse was killed in her Nashville home, the suspect's cellphone showed internet searches for how police use fingerprints in investigations, a detective testified in court Thursday.
The pages visited on Christopher D. McLawhorn's phone, according to Nashville Detective Chad Gish, included, "can rain wash off fingerprints" and "just how incriminating is a fingerprint really."
There were other pages visited that afternoon, including numerous news reports of the nurse's death and pornography site Pornhub, where Gish said the suspect searched "murderotica suffocation."
Family members of 23-year-old Tiffany Ferguson wept in General Sessions Judge Aaron Holt's courtroom as Gish and others testified in a preliminary hearing in the case against McLawhorn. McLawhorn was homeless and was charged by police about a week after Ferguson's death.
Holt, after hearing testimony from Gish, Detective Anthony Chandler, two homeless people and another man who knew the suspect, found probable cause to pass the case along to a grand jury. The grand jury will decide what charges, if any, the 24-year-old should face in the stabbing death of Ferguson.
McLawhorn is in custody and appeared in court in an orange jail uniform. He bounced his knee under a table as the hearing extended to more than 2 1/2 hours.
Police said the man had been in the area checking for unlocked doors at the time.
Chandler testified that an autopsy showed Ferguson was stabbed several times, including three wounds to her chest.
He said police were able to trace the alleged flight path of the suspect down nearby railroad tracks. He said they found Ferguson's jewelry and laptop and a bloody kitchen knife nearby.
Two knives were missing from Ferguson's kitchen, he said.
Testimony presented in the hearing also shed some light on how police identified McLawhorn as the suspect.
Nicholas Dalrymple, a homeless man, said he had been drinking with McLawhorn in the hours before the incident. Dalrymple said he called police after McLawhorn began talking about getting money and after he said he knew people left their doors unlocked and he could get in and out.
Dalrymple said McLawhorn was questioned and released by police. Chandler said McLawhorn denied being in the area of the apartment.
Dalrymple and John O'Donnell, who is also homeless, both testified they later saw McLawhorn with marks on his neck. Police have said Ferguson confronted the attacker in her home.
Detectives investigating the death of Nashville nurseBuy Photo
Detectives investigating the death of Nashville nurse Tiffany Ferguson found this knife, which they believe was taken from her kitchen and was used in the fatal stabbing. The evidence photograph was submitted during a court hearing on Thursday, March 16, 2017. (Photo: Stacey Barchenger / The Tennessean)
O'Donnell said McLawhorn blamed the marks on falling into a barbed wire fence. O'Donnell questioned that.
"He said he killed someone" and the marks came from a struggle, O'Donnell testified.
"He said she woke up and he didn't know what to do. It shocked him."
O'Donnell confirmed during his testimony that he has a prior convictions and arrest for criminal impersonation. The defense could use that during trial to suggest to jurors he is not a credible witness.
In the days after the killing, police released surveillance video of the suspect they said was checking car and apartment doors, neighborhood residents lobbed complaints at city officials and Ferguson's family issued an emotional plea to help find their loved one's killer. The family declined, through the District Attorney's Office, to comment after the hearing.
Both homeless men said during their testimony they knew it was McLawhorn in the surveillance video because of the way he walked. O'Donnell said he did not want to be in court testifying, but a buddy convinced him.
"He said do the right thing," the man said.
Reach Stacey Barchenger at 615-726-8968 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sbarchenger.