Caldwell County Sheriff's Office cleared in Jerry Anderson investigation

Appeals court says the evidence justified arrest
Apr. 25, 2013 @ 08:45 AM

The Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office had enough evidence to justify arresting Jerry Anderson in January 2006 in the killing of his wife, and the sheriff's office and arresting officers therefore have qualified immunity against being sued, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a decision issued Wednesday.

Anderson sued the sheriff's office in 2010, alleging that it had violated his Fourth Amendment rights and that the sheriff failed to properly train and supervise his deputies. He asserted malicious prosecution, false arrest and obstruction of justice.

Neither Anderson, Sheriff Alan Jones nor their attorneys could be reached for comment Wednesday. In January 2010, Jones had defended the investigation.

"I don't see anything that we would change," Jones said at the time. "We worked under the same procedures, and we had a lot of investigators helping us, as we often do on cases like this. Things go much better when you do that. If we had been doing something drastically wrong, they would have known that from what they saw."

Arguments in the appeal were heard in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 29.

Anderson and his wife, Emily Griffit Anderson, lived on a dairy farm in Sawmills at the time of her disappearance, Dec. 29, 2005. Her truck was found Jan. 7, 2006, in a Waffle House parking lot in Duncan, S.C. After bringing the truck back to Caldwell County, investigators found her body in the toolbox of the truck, still wearing the clothes that Jerry Anderson had described when he filed the missing-person report. She had been shot twice.

Anderson was arrested Jan. 27, 2006, and charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors sought the death penalty.

At Anderson's trial, the jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal, and a mistrial was declared July 20, 2007. Anderson was released after posting $150,000 bond, but in November 2007 prosecutors dismissed the murder charge. Charges still could be filed again someday.

Anderson's suit claimed that the sheriff’s office ignored evidence that proved his innocence.

“Evidence shows someone in South Carolina killed Mrs. Anderson,” Anderson's attorney, Robert Elliott, said in January. “He was not in South Carolina, and there is clear evidence she was alive (while still in North Carolina). We contend the evidence shows officers ignored any evidence proving his innocence.”

Anderson’s suit sought damages for his 18-month incarceration and the resulting loss of his business and farm.

However, the appeals court ruled that there was probable cause justifying an arrest and that Anderson did "not put forth evidence that the officers acted with reckless indifference to his rights.”

Among other things, investigators found that the Andersons had been unhappily married; Jerry Anderson had found cards sent to his wife by another man; the couple had been heard arguing on that Dec. 29; neighbors heard gunshots; there was blood on Anderson's front-end loader; Anderson had lied about being at the farm all day; Anderson lied about whether he owned any guns; a $4.5 million insurance policy had been taken out on Emily Anderson, naming Jerry Anderson as beneficiary; and when told about his wife's death, Anderson laughed and "told stories."

Among the evidence that cast doubt on Anderson's guilt was that he passed a lie-detector test, and a pathologist and medical examiner said that Emily Anderson had most likely died only one to three days before her body was found, though they could not rule out that she had died 10 days earlier. Deputies also failed to follow up on other leads indicating that Emily Anderson had been seen alive elsewhere after Dec. 29.

Lawyers representing the sheriff’s office had said that if the investigators did anything wrong, it did not amount to a violation of Anderson’s constitutional rights.

As of January, Anderson was working as a farmer in Kentucky and was said to be doing as well as he could and trying to carry on with his life.