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James Brown performs at the Live 8 Edinburgh concert on July 6, 2005, in Edinburgh, Scotland. The singer died the next year.
Atlanta CNN  — 

Three years ago at the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, a prosecutor stood over a table, cataloguing items in evidence bags.

“This right here is the shoe,” Assistant District Attorney Michael Sprinkel said in an internal video of the inventory session obtained by CNN through an open-records request. “This is the untested shoe that was believed to be worn in the hospital room on the night of James Brown’s death.”

The items were turned in by Jacque Hollander, a woman who said she could prove the Godfather of Soul was murdered at an Atlanta hospital in 2006. More than a dozen people who knew Brown have called for an autopsy or a criminal investigation.

“He was murdered,” Brown’s manager, Frank Copsidas, said in a 2022 interview. “That’s my interpretation, plain and simple. Somebody wanted him dead.”

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After Hollander visited the DA’s office in 2020, prosecutors agreed to check out her story.

But the inquiry was closed in 2021 after a deputy district attorney determined there was “an insufficient basis for the initiation of a Grand Jury investigation,” and authorities took no action regarding Brown’s death.

And then something strange happened to the items in the evidence bags at the prosecutor’s office. They disappeared.

District Attorney Fani Willis has not publicly acknowledged the disappearance. Nor has she given any outward indication that she is trying to find out what happened. Several CNN inquiries on the matter have gone unanswered. The vanishing items in the evidence bags have become another of the many mysteries that still surround Brown’s life and death.

The DA’s office has been silent about the missing items

In January, Hollander sued Willis in Fulton County Superior Court. The lawsuit demanded numerous documents related to the James Brown inquiry, as well as “any and all property and evidence submitted to, received by, maintained or possessed by the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office in relation to said investigation.”

The DA’s office has been oddly silent about the missing items, and that silence continued after the suit was filed. A process server reported serving the DA’s justice liaison, William McCombs, with a summons and complaint on January 17. Civil procedure requires a response within 30 days.

But there was no response from the DA. Months passed. On April 3, Hollander’s attorneys filed a motion for default judgment.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks during a news conference on August 29, 2022.

Finally, on May 8, the DA responded. Imploring Judge Paige Reese Whitaker not to render a default judgment for Hollander, attorneys for Willis blamed the late response on “excusable neglect.”

Deputy District Attorney Dexter Bond swore in an affidavit that after McCombs was served, “instead of hand delivering the summons and complaint to the appropriate team member, it was emailed. Consequently, the email was missed and an answer was not filed timely.”

CNN emailed McCombs to ask about these claims. McCombs wrote back and asked for a copy of Bond’s affidavit, which the reporter sent. CNN has since reached out to McCombs, who has not replied again.

Bond’s affidavit did not address the question of the missing items. A staffer who handles evidence for the DA’s office claimed in 2022 they had all been shipped to Hollander at her request, but Hollander said she never received them.

She did receive a box from the DA’s office on March 14, 2022, but it was considerably smaller and lighter than the green plastic bin she’d handed over. Few or none of the items from the evidence bags were in the box. A black nylon bag that had once been full of items was returned empty. The missing items from the green plastic bin included a calendar book, a handwritten note and the black stiletto shoe the prosecutor mentioned in the video.

Hollander: ‘The FBI should open an investigation’

After the items disappeared, CNN filed a request for all documents related to their chain of custody. But Don Geary, then the DA’s legal counsel, said there were no documents other than Hollander’s property receipt.

“Don’t employees from the DA’s office have to sign a log when they handle evidence?” a reporter wrote to Geary. “Isn’t there a system for keeping evidence secure?”

“One would expect,” Geary wrote back, “however, there are no other documents concerning the property.”

About two months after Hollander received the package, assistant chief of evidence William Chris Clark wrote an email about the situation to a colleague. That email was obtained by CNN through an open-records request.

Melissa Golden/Redux for CNN
Jacque Hollander, seen here with the Carson & Barnes Circus at a tour stop in 2018.

“I’m aware that Ms. Hollander says there was other items given to the DA’s office (well before our time) but none of those items were in the container and a search of the rooms did not reveal any other items associated with the case,” Clark wrote. “(They could show up later once we do a complete inventory at the warehouse.) This came about after the items were shipped to her.”

Legal counsel Don Geary has since left the Fulton DA’s office. He did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story. CNN emailed Deputy District Attorney Jeff DiSantis, the DA’s spokesman, to ask about Hollander’s lawsuit and the missing potential evidence. DiSantis did not respond.

CNN also emailed Willis but received no reply. Willis has made national headlines for her ongoing criminal investigation of former President Donald Trump.

In a recent phone interview with CNN, Hollander called for Willis to account for the missing items from the evidence bags.

“She should have opened an investigation,” Hollander said. “The FBI should open an investigation. Evidence just doesn’t walk out of the district attorney’s office.”