News

Attorneys Argue Self-Defense, Poor Policing in Mills Case

Attorneys for Christopher M. Ferrell, the man convicted of killing country musician Wayne Mills, asked the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals this week to grant their client a new trial, arguing that erroneous jury instructions and a botched police investigation tainted his conviction. They also argued that Ferrell acted out of fear and shot Mills in self-defense, the Tennessean reports. Ferrell was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2015 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing Mills after a tribute concert to music legend George Jones. The two were drinking in a downtown Nashville bar when they got into an argument and Ferrell shot Mills.

read more »

Drug Task Force Gets Grant to Fight Meth

Tennessee’s Third Judicial District Drug Task Force has received a $153,000 grant to help get drugs off the streets, WJHL reports. Task force director Adam Arrington says the agency spends 95 percent of its resources fighting methamphetamine in Greene, Hamblen, Hawkins, and Hancock counties and the new funding will go a long way to help in those efforts. The money comes from the federal Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. Arrington says the agency will receive payouts over a three-year period.

read more »

TAJ Takes Back Trial Lawyers Name, Elects New Board

The Tennessee Association for Justice (TAJ) changed its name back to the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association during its annual convention last week. The group also elected new officers and board members. Memphis attorney Thomas Greer was named president for the 2016-2017 year. He replaces Eric Buchanan of Chattanooga. Bruce Fox of Clinton moved into the position of president-elect. See a complete list of board members in this Chattanoogan.com story.

read more »

Washington County Family Justice Center Opens

Thursday marked the grand opening of the Family Justice Center in Johnson City, News Channel 11 reports. The center serves victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse, bringing victims’ services together under one roof, site coordinator Heather Brack said. Agencies with representatives at the center include the Johnson City Police, Washington County Sheriff, Safe Passage, a local domestic violence shelter, Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee, Legal Aid of East Tennessee and the First Judicial District Attorney General’s office.

read more »

Inmate Charged for Threatening Judges, Supreme Court Justice

An inmate at the Maury County Jail is facing terrorism charges after allegedly sending threatening letters to government officials in Tennessee and North Carolina, including judges, district attorneys and a Tennessee Supreme Court justice, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. James Earl Dillehay of Mt. Pleasant was in the jail on unrelated charges when he began mailing the letters, 22nd District Attorney General Brent Cooper said. The letters revealed he was upset because he was not going to be transferred to North Carolina, where he has a previous criminal record. The Columbia Daily Herald has the story.

read more »

Coffee County Drug Court to Add Veteran Component

The Coffee County Drug Court program keeps growing under the leadership of Judges Craig Johnson and Timothy Brock, according to county Mayor Gary Cordell. Earlier this month, 17 participants graduated from the program – the largest number of graduates since the program began more than 10 years ago. The county also announced that later this summer it will add a veterans component to its drug treatment court. Judge Johnson will preside over the new Veterans’ Court, the Tullahoma News reports.

read more »

Tennessee Courthouse Arsonist Gets Sentencing Break

An East Tennessee criminal will see his sentence reduced from 15 years to 77 months, thanks to a retrial provoked by last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that changed the standards for career criminals. Rickey Dale Sikes Jr.’s crimes included setting fire to the Jefferson County Courthouse, two road rage incidents, escaping custody and lying about his felon status to buy guns. His evading arrest charge no larger qualified under the new standard, so he was granted a new trial. Prosecutors have not said whether they will appeal the ruling. The Knoxville News Sentinel has more.
read more »

Ethics Complaint Filed Against Baltimore Prosecutors

A public-interest law professor has filed complaints seeking the disbarment of Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn J. Mosby and two prosecutors in her office over the prosecution of police allegedly connected to the death of Freddie Gray, the ABA Journal reports. Professor John F. Banzhaf III of the George Washington University Law School said he filed the complaints because prosecutors failed to present enough evidence to support prosecution but brought the cases anyway. Six police officers were indicted on charges related to Gray’s death. Three have been acquitted. Three more are awaiting trial.

read more »

Shelby DA Elected to National Board

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich was elected vice president of the board of the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) during the group’s 2016 summer meeting in Boston, News 5 reports. Weirich was part of a state delegation that included NDAA State Director Russell Johnson, Tennessee National District Attorneys General Conference (TNDAGC) Past President Kim Helper, NDAA Legislative Committee member and TNDAGC Vice President Mike Dunavant, and NDAA Past President John Gill.

read more »

Wilson County Man Unjustly Imprisoned Gets Hearing

A Wilson County man, who for years has sought a formal exoneration after serving 31 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, has been granted a hearing before the Tennessee Board of Parole, the Tennessean reports. Lawrence McKinney, 60, has been trying to clear his name since DNA evidence cleared him of the crime in 2009. The parole board will meet Sept. 27 to consider his case.

read more »

Court to Decide if Grundy Man Gets New Trial

The Tennessee Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday about whether a Grundy County man convicted of murder should get a new trial. Adam Braseel was convicted for the 2006 murder of Malcolm Burrows but was released from prison earlier this year after a circuit court judge found a number of discrepancies in his original trial. WRCB-TV has the latest news.

read more »

Dinner to Honor Justices, Feature Birmingham Bombing Prosecutor

The Knoxville Bar Association's annual dinner honoring the justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court will take place Sept. 7 at the Knoxville Convention Center Ballroom, with a reception at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person, and tables of 10 may be reserved in advance. G. Douglas Jones with Jones & Hawley Law will give the keynote address. As a U.S. attorney, Jones lead a team that re-opened the historic “cold case” of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and achieved the conviction of two former KKK members for the murder of four young girls. Learn more or buy tickets here.

read more »

Memphis Police Complaints to be Reviewed

The Memphis Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board, which looks at police misconduct cases and makes recommendations to the police director, was revived last year and is now accepting complaints against police for activity from 2011 to 2013. The Associated Press reports that police received 403 complaints from 190 people during that period with only 12 of those complaints acted on. The Mid-South Peace & Justice Center is working to bring as many of these cases as possible to the review board. The Times Free Press has the story.

read more »

Criminal Justice Overhaul on Tap for September

The U.S. House of Representatives will take up six bills designed to overhaul the criminal justice system in September, Speaker Paul Ryan said Friday. The Wisconsin Republican says that both parties went too far on the criminal code in the 1990s. “We’ve learned that there are better ways to dealing with these problems than locking up someone for 20 or 30 years. You end up ruining their lives, ruining their families, hurting communities. And then when they try to reenter into society, they’re destitute,” Ryan told National Public Radio. Roll Call has more on the story.

read more »

Nashville to Hold Public Hearings on Policing, Justice

A week after a series of national shootings involving police exposed deep-seeded racial mistrust around the country, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry announced several public events to hear from area residents on policing, criminal justice and race relations. The forums, to be held in conjunction with Lipscomb University’s Institute of Conflict Management, kick off July 23 at 1 p.m. at Pearl-Cohn High School, the Tennessean reports.

read more »

Batey Gets 15 Years in Vanderbilt Rape Case

Cory Batey, a former Vanderbilt University football player found guilty of raping an unconscious woman, was sentenced to 15 years in prison today, the Tennessean reports. It was the minimum term possible for the crimes. The victim had asked for 25 years. Judge Monte Watkins, who presided over the case, said it was “one of the saddest” he has encountered in his 32-year legal career. Three other former football players were charged in the case. Brandon E. Banks and Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. Brandon Vandenburg was found guilty on all counts against him. He faces a sentencing hearing Sept. 30.

read more »

Detective Facing Perjury Sues Prosecutor for Defamation

With more than a month remaining before Gatlinburg police Detective Rodney Burns is scheduled to appear in Hamilton County Criminal Court on charges of perjury, he is asking that Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston be removed from prosecuting his case. Burns says Pinkston cannot be impartial now that he has filed a $300,000 defamation suit against the prosecutor. Burns claims that since Pinkston asked the TBI to investigate him, he has suffered damage to his reputation, had his active cases postponed, and been ridiculed by the public and media. The Times Free Press reports.

read more »

ACLU Vows to Challenge Numerous Trump Policies

The ACLU is vowing to file constitutional challenges to several of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s policies if he is elected and tries to implement them. These include Trump’s call for a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the United States, creation of a “deportation force” to round up the undocumented, surveillance or registration of mosques and American Muslims, use of waterboarding, changes to libel laws so media outlets can be sued, bulk collection of metadata, and punishment for doctors who perform abortions. The ABA Journal looks at the ACLU's positions.

read more »

Court Approves ‘Predictive Algorithms’ in Sentencing

Sentencing judges may take into account algorithms that score offenders based on their risk of committing future crimes, Wisconsin’s high court ruled yesterday. The unanimous decision came in the case of a defendant who was deemed to be high risk for re-offending by COMPAS, a 137-question test that covers criminal and parole history, age, employment status, social life, education level, community ties, drug use and beliefs. The court said that if used properly, the tool “does not violate a defendant’s right to due process.” The Wall Street Journal law blog has the story.

read more »

Lawyers Sought for Women’s Empowerment Conference

Volunteer lawyers are needed for an upcoming Women’s Empowerment Conference organized by Women Overcoming Many Battles Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that seeks to help women overcome life’s challenges. The conference will take place July 30 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mt. Lebanon Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville. Attorneys are needed to lead 15-minute presentations on child support enforcement and wrongful eviction and participate in a general question and answer session. Lawyers also are needed to provide brief legal advice in one-on-one meetings with the women. Those interested in helping should contact AOC Pro Bono Coordinator Patricia Mills, 615-741-2687.

read more »

Loniel Greene Shooter Gets Probation in Plea Deal

A man charged in the shooting of former Metro Councilman Loniel Greene will plead guilty and face probation in the case, the Tennessean reports. Brandon Hunt-Clark, 20, was set to plead guilty to aggravated assault and face three years of probation. Called an "information plea agreement," the deal means the case will not go to a grand jury but will go directly before a criminal court judge.

read more »

Studies Yield Different Findings on Police Shootings

A new study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. finds that blacks are not any more likely than whites to be shot at by police, but those findings differ from a Washington Post review that shows blacks are 2.5 times as likely as whites to be shot and killed by police. The Fryer study did find that blacks are more likely to be subjected to rough treatment by police than whites, with blacks 170 percent more likely to be grabbed, 217 percent more likely to be handcuffed, 305 percent more likely to have a gun pointed at them, and 87 percent more likely to be kicked or subjected to a stun gun or pepper spray. The ABA Journal has links to the Fryer and Post studies.

read more »

Overbey to Chair Regional Policy Committee

State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, has been elected chair of the Southern Legislative Conference’s (SLC) Human Services and Public Safety Committee. The election was held during the group’s annual meeting, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said Overbey’s “tremendous knowledge and experience in mental health and human services … will be of great benefit to his fellow legislators and this organization." Overbey has served on both the House and Senate Health committees. He currently is chair of the Senate Ethics Committee and a vice chair of the Judiciary and Finance committees.

read more »

Gwyn Reappointed as TBI Director

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam yesterday announced the reappointment of Mark Gwyn as director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Humphrey on the Hill reports. Gwyn, 53, has led the state’s lead investigative law enforcement agency for 12 years. Under his leadership, the TBI has embraced technology to improve investigation techniques, increased information sharing between local, state and federal law enforcement partners, and spearheaded the state’s efforts to combat human trafficking with creation of a special unit to investigate cases and train officers.

read more »

New Suit Filed Over Mississippi Lethal Injection

Two Mississippi death row inmates are filing fresh challenges to the state’s use of midazolam as a sedative during the administration of a lethal injection, the Oxford Eagle reports. The move comes after the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a state court should determine whether Mississippi is breaking the law by using the drug. Mississippi law requires a three-drug process, with an “ultra-short-acting barbiturate” followed by a paralyzing agent and a drug that stops the heart.

read more »