Homeless Knoxville man found living with corpse

James O'Brien (Courtesy: Knox Co. Sheriff's Office)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A homeless man told authorities he lived with a dead body for nearly a week. The corpse was finally discovered after management received complaints of a foul smell coming from one of the apartments.

The body of Clarence Stephens, III, was found covered up by blankets and clothing on April 27th. The man staying in the apartment, James M. O'Brien, told police he started piling on the blankets and clothes and opened the windows after the body started decomposing and smelling.

O'Brien, 68, claims he hit Stephens in the throat six days earlier. He then claims Stephens laid on the bed and never regained consciousness.

O'Brien has been charged with Abuse of a Corpse, but not with Stephens' death. Autopsy reports show Stephens died of natural causes. He had a history of seizures and was on a lot of medications. There was a small cut under his chin, but police say it wasn't enough to kill him. Even so, many still can't believe O'Brien decided to live with Stephens' body instead of reporting it.

"I was at mission myself before and it ain't no picnic on the street. And he just probably needed a safe-haven i guess, but deranged mind to stay in there six days with a dead man," said Jerri Fritz, who lives in Isabella Towers.

O'Brien's bond was set at $5,000.

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