"A philanderer cannot be a parent-a parent cannot be a philanderer."
It was the 13th of December 2011. A Tuesday. Norman Eugene Clark called Robin Owens and asked her to check on his girlfriend, twenty five year old Brittany Eldridge. Brittany was pregnant with their son who they had named Ezekiel and was due at work that morning at 8.30am but when she didn't show up, Norman asked Robin to check up on her.
Norman and Brittany worked for the same company and Robin was Brittany's mother. Robin went to Brittany's apartment. Brittany lived at the Cross Creek apartment complex off Western Avenue in Knoxville, Tennessee, United States. She lived there alone. Brittany had been married but left her husband, Tery Eldridge, when her affair with Norman was exposed. Brittany met Norman at work and even though they started the same day, Brittany was a fast learner and was really good at her job so she taught Norman a few things. They were both collectors who called people to make sure they were keeping up with their house payments. They started an affair a few months after they met and after Brittany left Tery, she moved into an apartment. Shortly afterwards, she told her mother that she was pregnant with Norman's baby.
Brittany decided to keep working at Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance right up to the birth. She was due in December 2011. But that day, the 13th of December, Brittany didn’t show up for work.
Robin went to Brittany's apartment and when she got there, she found Brittany's apartment unlocked. When Robin entered the apartment, she knew something was wrong. She went outside and called 911. She told the Operator that Brittany's apartment looked like it had been trashed. The 911 Operator told Robin to go back inside the apartment and see if Brittany was there. Robin found Brittany inside her bedroom. She was lying naked in a pool of blood on the bedroom floor and was dead. Brittany had been choked to death and there were two stab wounds to her neck.
The Medical Examiner determined that Brittany had been dead for at least 12 hours. Her negligee was lying horizontally across her groin area loosely. The Autopsy revealed that there was bruising on Brittany's chest and head. There were injuries to her throat and neck. Brittany died as a result of strangulation. It appeared she had been stabbed in the throat twice with a scissors which was a contributing factor to her death. Her death was ruled as a homicide. The cause of death of Brittany's baby Ezekiel was listed as intrauterine asphyxia, status post maternal death and his death was also ruled as a homicide. Paternity tests confirmed that the baby was Norman's baby.
When police arrived at Brittany's apartment, they found no sign of any forced entry. But the scene looked like there may have been an attempted burglary. The two televisions inside Brittany's apartment had been placed on the floor and drawers were open but nothing was missing. Brittany's debit card had not been taken despite the fact that her password was attached to the card.
When Robin told Norman about Brittany, he went straight to the apartment and police spoke to him almost immediately. Robin had told them that Norman was nice to her daughter and treated her well until he discovered that Brittany was pregnant. Norman told police that he had not been in Brittany's apartment on the 12th of December, the night police believed Brittany was murdered. He told police that he was not involved in the murder. He admitted that they had argued and confirmed Brittany sent him a number of text messages that he did not respond to.
Norman told police that the night Brittany was murdered, the 12th of December, he was supposed to go to Brittany's apartment but he went home after work and then went to Leann Hawn's home. Police discovered that Norman was dating a number of different women and his alibi was that he was at another woman's house when Brittany was murdered. Leann initially told police she fell asleep at 9.30pm that night and woke up at 10.30pm and at that time she saw Norman for the first time that night walking into the room.
Police spoke to Allison Brockhoff. Allison was Brittany's friend and she told police that she believed, based on text messages and emails sent from Brittany, that Brittany had arranged to meet Norman at her house the night of the 12th of December. It was her understanding that Norman had arranged the meeting to discuss the baby.
Analysis of Norman's phone records indicated he was in the area of Brittany's apartment around the time of her death.
He was charged with two counts of first degree murder.
It was the Prosecution's case that Norman went to Brittany's apartment the night of the 12th of December. Their employer had given a printout of emails to police from the work computers. On the 12th of December at 3.05pm, there was an email from Brittany's account to Norman's account which said:
"I didn't get your text earlier...which makes me wonder if I've been getting some of your text recently ...so just in case you don't get my text telling you that I'm at home , you can come over anytime after 8:45."
There was a response to that email at 3.06pm from Norman's account to Brittany's account which said:
" I will text or call on my way!"
It was the Prosecution's case that Norman was having multiple affairs with women and had financial problems. He had fallen behind on making payment for various expenses and lived in his parent's basement. It was their case that Norman was afraid that the mother of his other child, a daughter, would try to force him to pay child support if she discovered that he had another baby on the way. They believed he killed Brittany after she threatened to sue him for child support.
The Prosecution told the Jury that the evidence showed that Brittany was attacked from behind inside her bedroom when she was getting ready to have a bath. It was their case that Norman grabbed Brittany around the neck with his forearm and clamped a hand over her mouth. She struggled to free herself as she was choked and suffocated and the Prosecution argued that Norman grabbed a pair of scissors, which they believe were inside the bedroom, and stabbed her twice in the neck. Ezekiel suffocated inside Brittany's womb.
The Court heard from an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He testified that he pinged Norman's phone in the general area of Brittany's apartment at the times of 8.28pm, 8.29pm and 9.05pm. The analysis showed his phone was then turned off at 9.06pm on the 12th of December.
Three text messages were sent from Brttany’s phone to Norman’s phone between 9pm and 10pm.
The Prosecution told the Jury that they believed Brittany's apartment was staged to look like a burglary had occurred. They asked the Jury to convict him and told them there was nobody else with a motive to want her dead. Police had looked at Tery, her husband, as part of the investigation and ruled him out as a suspect.
It was the Defense's case that Norman was not involved in Brittany's murder. They pointed to the fact there was no DNA evidence found. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation tested over 20 DNA samples and said there was no DNA evidence linking Norman to Brittany's murder.
The Defense claimed that Norman was at his other girlfriend's house at the time of Brittany's murder but there was no alibi provided for the time period between 8.30pm and 9pm. It was their case that a burglar may have been surprised to find Brittany home and killed her. They told the Jury there were signs of burglary. Two televisions had been placed on the floor and Brittany's purse had been emptied and the contents thrown on the floor.
They also asked the Jury to look at the time of Brittany's murder. They claimed Norman would not have had time to kill Brittany, stage the scene to look like a burglary and drive several miles to his other girlfriend's house. They also argued that somewhere along the way he would have had to get rid of his clothes which would have had blood on them and the scissors used to stab Brittany and there just was not sufficient time for him to do that. Leann testified and told the Court that she only saw Norman at 10.30pm that night but when questioned by the Defense, she conceded that he may have been there earlier and she may not have realized as she was asleep. Police believed Brittany was murdered before 9pm that night.
Norman did not testify at his Trial.
The Jury could not reach a unanimous verdict and a Mistrial was declared. Eleven of the twelve Jurors voted to acquit him. Two years after that Trial, Norman faced a second Trial in 2017 but again, the Jury could not reach a verdict. This time however the split was different. It was reported that ten of the Jurors voted to convict him.
Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen announced that her office will not seek a third trial on charges of first-degree murder. However it is open to another Trial being brought if new evidence emerges. To date, Brittany's case remains unsolved.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
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