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When someone commits a violent crime, in addition to being held responsible in criminal court, he or she can also be held liable in civil court, regardless of the outcome of the criminal trial. However, a guilty verdict is generally helpful to a civil suit. Testimony in a civil suit can also help if the defendant appeals the conviction.

In Tennessee, the family of a man killed in 1981 finally got that guilty verdict. Now the man's daughter has filed a wrongful death suit against the defendant who's been sentenced to life behind bars for the murder of her father. She wasn't even 2 years old when her father was found shot to death and stuffed in a steel drum 35 years ago in Chattanooga.

Indictment, Conviction Came After Cold Case Was Reopened

At the time of his death the victim and defendant were both on trial for cocaine distribution. Although the victim's co-defendant was investigated several times, he wasn't prosecuted -- until last year when the case was reopened by the police department's cold case unit.

Prosecutors got a grand jury indictment of the defendant. They argued in court that the defendant killed his cohort to keep him from testifying against him.

The daughter, who is seeking $5 million in her wrongful death suit, didn't know what had happened to her father until prosecutors told her last June..

Testimony in Civil Case Could Help if Conviction Is Appealed

In Tennessee, plaintiffs normally have a year from the date of someone's death to file a wrongful death suit. However, since the woman didn't learn about her father's murder until last year, she had a year from the date she was given the information to take legal action.

The wrongful death civil case could prove crucial if the defendant decides to appeal his first-degree murder conviction. That's because, unlike in the criminal case, where he never testified, he will be required to take the stand and answer questions in the civil case.

While surviving family members of murder victims are often more focused on seeing that the alleged perpetrator is convicted of the crime, it may be worthwhile to explore options for civil action as well. Depending on the defendant's assets, compensation from a successful suit can go a long way toward helping families struggling financially after the murder of a loved one.

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