Man pleads guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 1989 cold case

Photos of James Richard Layne are at left and at right. A composite sketch of the suspect in his murder is at center. (Images: Hamilton Co. D.A.'s Cold Case website)

BREAKING: Samuel Reeves pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter Wednesday morning.

Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston's office provided more background in the case on Wednesday, including how investigators finally located the suspect:

"Richard Layne checked into La Plaza Motel on Cummings Highway in Lookout Valley on the afternoon of Monday, February 20, 1989. He paid for a one night stay.
The following morning, Tuesday, February 21st, Mr. Layne did not check out as scheduled. Motel housekeeping staff entered his room and found the naked and bloody body of the 47-year old lying in the floor.
An autopsy revealed Mr. Layne had been stabbed thirty-two (32) times, with wounds to the head, neck, chest, back, abdomen, and arms. The ring finger of his left hand had been crudely amputated.
Investigators believe the killer made off with Mr. Layne’s wedding ring. Also, the Ringgold, Georgia, man was known to carry large amounts of cash (which he used at car auctions) but Chattanooga police found his wallet empty, leading them to suspect cash had been taken, too.
Original detectives assigned to the Layne homicide had few leads and the case quickly became cold.
Last year, the FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) found a match to a fingerprint on a beer can collected from Layne’s motel room. It belonged to Samuel Edward Reeves and was identical to a fingerprint taken when Reeves was more recently booked on a DUI charge.
Once notified of the AFIS hit, the Cold Case Unit reopened the case and began interviewing potential witnesses. When CCU investigators approached the suspect, he refused to talk and hired defense attorney Lee Davis.
Based on Mr. Reeves’ contention he acted in self-defense and with limited available evidence (one fingerprint on a beer can), District Attorney General Neal Pinkston negotiated a plea agreement with Mr. Davis.
Reeves entered a plea of Voluntary Manslaughter and received a six (6) year prison sentence, which will be suspended to probation after he serves 11 months, 29 days in the county jail. The state has agreed to allow Reeves to serve his probation in his home state of Alabama.
DA General Pinkston recently met with Mr. Layne’s family and they have indicated they are in favor of this resolution.
This is the ninth case resolved by the DA’s Cold Case Unit since it began operating on October 1, 2014.


Wednesday morning, the Hamilton County District Attorney will present a case to a judge that has gone unsolved for almost 30 years.

On Tuesday, NewsChannel 9 we learned it involves Samuel Reeves.

In paperwork from the Hamilton County Clerk's Office indicted that the District Attorney is asking that Reeves face voluntary manslaughter charges in the death of James "Richard" Layne.

The paperwork says Reeves "did unlawfully and intentionally or knowingly kill James Richard Layne in a state of passion produced by adequate provocation sufficient to lead a reasonable person to act in an irrational manner...."

However, there has been no arrest or indictment in the case.

The Hamilton County District Attorney's Cold Case website has an entry on Layne's death.

The cold case website says:

"James "Richard" Layne checked into La Plaza Motel on February 20, 1989. He paid for a one night stay. The morning of February 21st Layne didn't check out, so motel staff entered his room and found Layne dead. The Ringgold, Georgia man had been robbed and stabbed to death."

The case is getting a hearing Wednesday morning in Judge Tom Greenholtz's courtroom.

This is a developing story. Depend on us to bring you updates as we get them.

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