Cocke County coroner resigns after judge bans him from crime scenes

NEWPORT (WATE) – Cocke County’s coroner has resigned from his post after a judged banned him from crime scenes for a gruesome reason.Terry Jarnigan allegedly stuck his finger into a bullet wound of a shooting victim before the autopsy had been performed.

Court documents were filed November 19. The district attorney’s office accuses Jarnigan of going to crime scenes uninvited and contaminating the scene without any regard for the investigation or, in one case, the impact of his actions on the victim’s family.

“They asked the judge to basically keep the coroner from any crimes scenes or tampering with evidence during an ongoing investigation,” said County Attorney Carter Moore.

According to an affidavit, Cocke County sheriff’s detectives were investigating on November 2 the death of man with a gunshot wound to the head. When the detectives arrived at the hospital, they discussed getting an autopsy with Jarnigan.

That is when, according to the affidavit, Jarnigan stuck two fingers in the bullet exit wound of the victims head, pulled out brain matter, said, “Oh, brains,” and then put his fingers back in the wound.

WATE 6 On Your Side tried to go by Jarnigan’s home for a comment. The address is listed on court documents. No one answered the door.

We asked the DA’s office if Jarnigan’s alleged inappropriate actions have put other cases in jeopardy. They said they haven’t identified any cases where this could be a problem.

Moore says Jarnigan has been the Cocke County coroner for the last 14 years, appointed every two years the county commission. The coroner has similar duties to a medical examiner, except state law requires each county to have a medical examiner. Counties do not have to have a coroner. Medical examiners also have to be an MD.

Now that Jarnaigan has resigned Moore says another may not be appointed for Cocke County.

“It will be up to the CLB (county’s legislative body) whether or not to appoint another coroner or abolish the office completely as the CLB has power to do,” said Moore.

WATE 6 On Your Side looked at Jarnigan’s criminal history in Cocke County. Jarnigan was convicted in 1977 of willful injury by explosives, arson and detonating explosives with the intent to harm another person and theft.

According to the county attorney, Jarnigan was paid $35 every time he responded to a crime scene or hospital when a death was suspicious.

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