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Albany death investigation to remain inactive

District attorney will not reopen 2011 death ruled to be a suicide

ALBANY — The investigation of a suspicious death of the wife of an Albany Marine in 2011 will remain inactive despite new forensic opinions provided by the woman’s family, officials with the Dougherty District Attorney’s Office say.

When Natalie Eppler, 23, died of a gunshot wound to the head, her husband James Eppler, an Albany Marine, was changed with murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. James Eppler was jailed for nearly 90 days before the incident was ruled a suicide and the charges were dropped.

Now, Natalie’s mother, Rebecca Holland, has presented independent opinions from at least two forensic experts in the hope of reopening the case against her former son-in-law.

Following a detailed assessment of the evidence available, Dr. Frank P. Miller III, a forensic pathologist, summarizes his report by contending a lack of evidence to adequately support a classification as homicide or suicide, saying that in his opinion the manner of the woman’s death would be “best classified as manner undetermined.”

Ross Gardner, crime scene analyst and blood stain pattern specialist from Lake City, questioned several statements by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in its investigation of the Eppler case and pointed to a possible “small spatter” on the clothing of James Eppler. Gardner suggested that the splatter be checked to determine if it was blood, and that the splatter evidence be DNA evaluated.

The new opinions do not, however, provide the “reasonable doubt” required to pursue a criminal case, said Greg Edwards, Dougherty County district attorney.

“Nothing at this point gives me a sufficient basis that this is a homicide rather than a suicide,” Edwards said.

Edwards said that since the statue of limitations never expires in the case of homicide, the Eppler case will never be technically “closed” and may be subject to newer, more accurate forensic methods in the future. Edwards cited as an example a Dougherty County case in 2005 in which Dexter Fisher, 22, was ultimately arrested and charged for the death of his mother, Emma Fisher. The woman’s death had earlier been ruled a suicide.