Cold case of missing ex-Director of Lee Commuter Services again dismissed
Charges for the murder of a former Lee Resident Director, who went missing almost nine years ago, have been dropped for a second time.
Donnie Brantley, the husband of Marsha Brantley, was accused of killing his wife and was set to be put on trial Feb. 5. However, moments before the trial was set to begin, the charges against him were dropped, and the case was dismissed once more.
Marsha Brantley served as a Resident Director for several years before taking her last position as Director of Commuter Services at Lee University. Brantley, 51 years old at the time, was reported missing by her neighbors nearly a decade ago in November of 2009. She hadn't been seen since June of that year. Neither witnesses nor a crime scene has been found, and her body was never located.
According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Brantley gave several different accounts of where his wife was, varying from a trip out West to a decision to separate. Eventually, Marsha Brantley's hairdresser reported her missing to the police.
Despite the lack of clear evidence, Brantley’s case had been updated from missing person to homicide. Her case was being handled by a cold case unit as investigators believed Brantley to be dead.
Donnie Brantley has been a person of interest in the disappearance of his wife since 2011, the Times Free Press previously reported. In 2013, Brantley was charged with first-degree murder of his wife. However, the charges were dropped against him for the first time in 2014 due to lack of evidence.
Brantley still remained a main suspect in the disappearance of his wife, according to investigators and Marsha Brantley’s remaining family.
Brantley was later charged for first-degree murder of his wife for the second time in 2016.
10th District Attorney General Steve Crump released a statement regarding the decision to charge Brantley once again for the murder of his wife.
“It is our belief, and the grand jury found, that between the first day of May 2009, and the 31st of May 2009, that he committed the act that led to her death,” Crump said. “And that act was done in a premeditated and deliberate fashion.”
On a public Facebook page dedicated to posting updates on Marsha Brantley’s case, Brantley’s aunt, Medra Rader Justis, said she hoped for justice in the retrial of Donnie Brantley.
“Please pray that justice will be served,” Justis wrote. “I have faith that Donnie will be found guilty but whatever the outcome that the truth will come forth. My desire is to find Marsha and put her to rest.”
The second trial was set for Feb. 5 of this year but was dismissed under circumstances similar to the 2014 dismissal, for lack of incriminating evidence against Brantley. Criminal Court Judge Andrew Freiberg filed the motion to drop the charges against Brantley “without prejudice” as he could possibly be charged again in the future.
To the dismay of friends and family, the case has been put on hold for the time being. Many took to the public Facebook page to share condolences following the news of the dismissal.
“We are very disappointed that this happened,” Justis wrote, “but have been assured that this isn't the end.”
Though much is still unclear surrounding the disappearance of Brantley, the legacy she left behind in her community is clear—especially to those that worked alongside her.
Director of Faculty Development Dr. Carolyn Dirksen said Brantley was well-loved on campus and was very involved in student life.
“She was a very excellent, young administrator,” Dirksen said. “She was working her way up in student life. She was very creative—that’s why she was able to get this startup job in commuter services.”
With her ardent love for writing, Brantley was described by many people as a creative. She kept a blog called “Magpie’s Nest,” which she updated frequently with details of her life. And she took on her role as Director of Commuter Services with the same passion and efficiency, with the goal of making students who commuted to Lee feel more integrated in campus life.
Brantley would now be 59 years old, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database.
“She was a wonderful woman,” Dirksen said. “She was very warm and the students all liked her.”