Medical examiner says Chattanooga woman died by strangulation

Reported by: Erik Avanier
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Updated: 6/11/2014 8:34 am
CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee(WDEF) - A case that was first through to be a possible drowning is now being called a homicide.

Chattanooga police have arrested JaMichael Harris, 20, of Chattanooga for the murder of Inez Burney.

According to the arrest affidavit, Burney was strangled to death by Harris then she was placed into a bathtub to make it look like she drowned while taking a bath.

During an autopsy, the medical examiner noticed petechia in the victims eyes as well as in her mouth. Petechia is a type of hemmorhage caused by physical trauma.

The examiner also found injuries on the victims neck that pointed toward strangulation as well evidence on the fingernails that would indicate she struggled and possibly scratched her attacker.

Investigators noticed a scratch on Harris's face and stated that he could not explain how it got there.

According to the arrest report, this all started Friday June 6 when police responded to a medical call involving CPR on the 1400 block of Cypress Street.

Harris reportedly told police he arrived at Burney's apartment at 4 A.M. and found her unresponsive in the bathtub. He also told them he called 911 and performed CPR on Burney an hour and half later.

Police were already suspicious of Harris due to the scratch on his face and the lapse of time between allegedly finding Burney in the bathtub and actually calling 911 for help.

Family members reportedly told investigators that Burney posted a large amount of money on her Facebook page. When investigators searched her apartment, they didn't find the money.

Information from the medical examiner along with scratches on the suspects face and a time line of events that didn't add up led police to arrest Harris for murder.

Detectives came to the conclusion that Harris wanted Burney's money so he attacked her. According to the arrest report, Burney struggled to fight back and was able to scratch Harris in the face before he strangled her to death. Police believe Harris positioned Burney's body in the bathtub to make it look like an accidental drowning. Another reason why police doubted Harris's story is because Burney's hair was never wet for someone who was supposed to have drowned.

Harris is now being held on a $500,000 bond and the official charge against him is criminal homicide.

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