MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In a matter of roughly one year, 17-year-old Oshay Sims went from honor student and band member to murder suspect, then later set free.
“Once I explained to the prosecutor, we sat down with her and we went over everything,” Sims’ Attorney Kamilah Turner said. “She too was quite shocked that this is what the evidence looked like, and so that’s how he ended up getting out of jail without having to make a bond.”
Turner said it was a rare decision on a serious charge.
She took the case for free after an outcry from Sims’ teachers and others. Sims had confessed to killing 26-year-old Antaeus Colbert near an AutoZone parking lot near Airways and Lamar in June 2018.
“You have to have corroborating evidence or other evidence, other than a statement to convict somebody,” Turner said.
Police connected the victim and suspect through cell phone records, but witnesses and Sims’ own confession said someone else used his phone.
There was not a murder weapon, and police obtained surveillance video from the wrong day. Court records show another person at the scene never identified Sims as the shooter, and friends put him elsewhere.
“So he just started making things up, and that’s what the confession looked like to me,” Turner said. “It looked like somebody who was making things up and trying to fit into whatever they wanted him to say.”
Memphis police interrogated Sims for roughly eight hours, part of that time without his mother present, and it wasn’t recorded. Documents show the officer advised Sims of his rights multiple times, Turner believes the confession was false and forced.
“I knew the officers that were involved in the case, I saw the names and quite frankly, I knew that some of them had reputations for doing things that are not always above board,” Turner said.
The WREG Investigators requested the officers’ personnel files. That’s when we noticed names of officers who’d recently been in trouble.
Sergeant Sheila Green was the lead homicide detective on Sims’ case. Her partner Lieutenant Eric Kelly assisted in the investigation. If those names sound familiar, it’s because WREG has mentioned them recently.
Turner said that raises questions.
Kelly is on a list of more than a dozen law enforcement officers being investigated by the DA’s office for misconduct. He and Green traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, to interview a murder suspect.
A woman named Bridgett Stafford rode shotgun on that taxpayer-funded trip. Stafford was a suspect in a unrelated murder case.
Racy texts reveal Kelly had a sexual relationship with Stafford. Records reveal he gave her money, bought her weed and encouraged her to work as a stripper.
Stafford told police she had marijuana Kelly purchased in the car during the trip, and smoked with Green’s wife before leaving. Kelly retired amid an investigation, and Green was suspended for two days.
Turner said she’d heard about Kelly but wasn’t aware of Green’s involvement.
WREG dug deeper into Green’s file and found dozens of other violations, including two for excessive force. One involved an incident where she reportedly beat up a man after having to chase him. It was appealed through Civil Service and dropped.
The other involved an arrest where Green pepper-sprayed a woman, then allegedly hit her during transport. Green’s statements and jail logs showed conflicting times. Police said the woman could have sustained injuries otherwise but called Green “deceitful” in her “portrayal of the facts” and said her actions did “not justify the use of chemical agent.”
“And so, if we’ve found out about this one thing, and we’ve heard about these other things, how much more is there that we don’t know?” Turner said.
MPD wouldn’t go on camera, but a spokesperson pointed to court records to reiterate their officers following the rules in Sims’ case. Yet questions still remain.
Nearly two months after Sims was released, he died in a car accident traveling to a family funeral. His attorneys were working to have the charges dismissed.
Sims’ story was a partial catalyst behind two juvenile criminal justice reform bills introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly this year. One would require videotaping all interrogations of minors. The other requires a parent or guardian be present during interrogations.
Both bills are up for a House subcommittee vote March 11.