News

Documentary Looks at Recidivism in NE Tennessee

"Outcasts: Surviving the Culture of Rejection," a locally produced documentary that looks at the high cost of recidivism and its impact on Northeast Tennessee, will premier Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Wellmont Regional Center for Performing Arts on the campus of Northeast State Community College. Produced by Jane Hillhouse of Hillhouse Video Works in Kingsport, "Outcasts" also examines viable solutions that are making a difference. After the premiere, the documentary will air on East Tennessee PBS and affiliates nationwide. Learn more or RSVP online. The Kingsport Times News has more on the making of the film.

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Accused Gang Member Fatally Shot During Trial

An accused street gang member standing trial in federal court in Salt Lake City who was shot by a U.S. marshal this morning has died of his wounds, according to an FBI spokesperson. The defendant was shot when he attacked a witness who was testifying against him, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said. The defendant, Siale Angilau, 25, who was not handcuffed, lunged at the witness on the first day of testimony in his trial. After the shooting, a group of marshals continued to hold Angilau at gunpoint near the jury box. The incident is being investigated by the FBI. The Chicago Tribute reported.

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Shelby DA Race Heating Up

The two candidates -- incumbent Amy Weirich and Joe Brown -- vying to be the next district attorney general in Shelby County won’t face each other until August, but they were making news this week with what panelists on News Channel 3's "Informed Sources" called "questionable comments." The program reviewed recent developments in the race.

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Meet 1st District's Candidates for AG, Criminal Court Judge

Candidates for attorney general in the First Judicial District -- incumbent Tony Clark, Jerome Cochran and Dan Smith -- answer questions about what they would bring to the office. The Johnson City Press reports. The paper also looks at the race for Criminal Court Judge Part I. The seat, held by Judge Robert Cupp since 1998, has two candidates seeking the seat. Cupp did not file paperwork to seek re-election to the bench. Dennis Brooks, an assistant district attorney, and Lisa Nidiffer Rice, a private practice lawyer, will go head-to-head on the May 6 Republican primary ballot. The district includes Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties.

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New Clemency Criteria Aims to Reduce Prison Rolls

New Justice Department criteria for evaluating clemency petitions will likely result in thousands of new applications from federal prisoners, Attorney General Eric Holder said Monday. The new criteria are aimed at inmates serving time for nonviolent drug offenses and are intended to reduce the nation's federal prison population. Holder said the change will "ensure that those who have paid their debts have a chance to become productive citizens." WRCB carried the Associated Press report.

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House Approves Electrocution Bill

The Capital Punishment Enforcement Act, which would allow the state Department of Correction to use the electric chair for executions if lethal injection chemicals are unavailable, passed in the House by a 68-13 vote, the Tennessean reports. HB 2476 sponsored by state Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, allows the department to petition the governor to use the electric chair if it is unable to obtain the proper chemicals for administering a lethal injection. Having passed the Senate last week 23-3, the bill now heads to Gov. Bill Haslam. State Attorney General Robert Cooper issued an opinion in March that deemed the bill constitutionally defensible, the Nashville Scene notes.

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Knoxville Lawyer Charged with Swapping Pills for Sex

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) arrested prominent Knoxville defense attorney Bruce Poston today, charging that he swapped hydrocodone pills for sex, Knoxnews reports. Poston, 67, was arrested at the City County Building in downtown Knoxville on three counts of the delivery of hydrocodone in January and February. The charges also accuse him of making those deliveries while driving on a suspended driver’s license. According to the TBI, a woman stepped forward in January to complain Poston “was supplying her with money and pills.” The woman further alleged that Poston had represented her husband in a criminal case and “mishandled her husband’s case in order to further his sexual relationship with her.” Retired District Attorney General Greeley Wells has been assigned to the case in place of the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office, which has recused itself.

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General Assembly Faces Critical Votes in Final Hours

The last week of the legislative session is seeing several high profile bills die or finally make their way through the process, though at the end of today’s Senate session, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said more than 120 bills are still pending before the body. Among the proposals failing to gain traction were Gov. Bill Haslam's voucher bill, which failed to pass the House Finance Committee and was withdrawn, and an open carry gun bill, which was killed by the same committee. Measures limiting the amount of pseudoephedrine Tennesseans may buy are headed to a conference committee to hammer out differences between Senate and House versions. Bills moving on to the governor’s desk include a measure allowing the sale of high-gravity beer in grocery stores and authorizing criminal assault charges against women using illegal drugs during pregnancy. The latter issue gained national attention with a story in the New York Times today.

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Justice in Motion Run/Walk Benefits Crime Victims

The First Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the Washington County Sheriff's Office will hold the Justice in Motion 5K run/walk April 26 to raise awareness of victims’ rights. The event, held each year during National Crime Victims' Rights Week, benefits Safe Passage, a domestic abuse shelter in Johnson City, and CHIPS, a family violence shelter in Erwin. Local domestic abuse shelters, sexual assault centers, victims groups and law enforcement agencies are invited to attend the race and set up booths with information about their services.

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No Money in Budget to Tackle Rape Kits

The state budget passed last week does not include money to tackle the huge backlog of untested rape kits, and the sponsors of legislation that would have set money aside to test the estimated 20,000 kits are not hopeful for relief this year. Rape victim Meaghan Ybos continues to tell her story to help push the legislation and eliminate the state's massive backlog, the Tennessean reports. She was raped in 2003, but her kit was not tested until almost a decade later when she called to check on her cold case after hearing about a possible serial rapist in her area. He was later convicted of raping Ybos and six other women.

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DA Drops Charges Against Clarksville Attorney

Charges have been dropped against Clarksville attorney Fletcher Long after the local district attorney declined to prosecute the case. A former employee had accused Long of harassing her by sending threatening text messages and emails, calling in the middle of the night and driving slowly by her house. An order expunging the charge and dismissing a temporary order of protection was signed by the presiding judge. "The result of a nolle is simply that the State is declining to pursue the charge(s) against the defendant at the present time,” the district attorney said. “Unlike a dismissal with prejudice, a case that has been disposed of via a nolle prosequi may be readdressed in the future. Should any additional evidence be discovered in the near future or should any additional instances arise…the State may choose to revive this matter after careful review."

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Former Knox Court Employee Charged with Child Porn

Former Knox County Criminal Court employee Joshua Ryan Fettig, 20, was arrested Wednesday on charges of sexual exploitation of a minor, Knoxnews reports. Investigators began looking at Fettig last December after receiving tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that someone had attempted to use their email account to send images of child pornography. Fettig worked as a night clerk in the judicial commissioner’s office at the time the probe was initiated. A forensic examination of “confiscated computers” revealed 356 images of child pornography, investigators said. Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey fired Fettig after his work computer was seized in mid-January.

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DA Candidates to Discuss Domestic Violence

Domestic violence will be the focus of an upcoming candidate panel in Nashville, where the three candidates running to be Davidson County District Attorney will share the stage. The event is sponsored by the YMCA and the Legal Aid Society and will feature its managing attorney for Nashville, DarKenya Waller, as moderator. The forum runs from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on Monday at Woodmont Christian Church, 3601 Hillsboro Pike in Nashville.

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Senate Votes to Protect Info in Sexual Assault Cases

The Senate voted unanimously today to keep personal information in sexual assault cases confidential after the cases have been closed, The Tennessean reports. Under House Bill 2361 by state Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, evidence presented during trials for rape or sexual assault that identifies the victim would be made confidential once a guilty sentence has been given. The legislation had previously come under fire for being to broad in restricting the media’s ability to report on rape cases. The bill that passed was scaled back from earlier versions.

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Senate: Permit Not Needed to Carry Gun

The state Senate has passed a bill to allow Tennesseans to openly carry guns without a state-issued permit, the Tennessean reports. The chamber voted 25-2 in favor of the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet. Before the Senate floor vote, the measure narrowly made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee with only five votes in favor.

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Tree Plantings to Honor Crime Victims

Tennessee ranks among the 10 worst states for domestic assault, with 50,000 cases reported in the first eight months of 2013 alone, according to TBI statistics. This is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and correctional officials and advocate groups are paying tribute to those who have suffered at the hands of criminals in Tennessee with ceremonial tree plantings honoring women and children who have been killed by their domestic abusers. The Tennessean has more.

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Editorial: Is Justice Being Served?

In an editorial, the Johnson City Press urges state lawmakers to increase funding for district attorneys and public defenders. It says that with caseloads surging and resources dwindling, "can we truly say justice is being served under these conditions?"

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October Date Set for Setzer Murder Trial

A Lebanon man charged with murder in the package-bomb deaths of his in-laws has an Oct. 28 trial date, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Wilson County Circuit Court Judge John Wootten said he set an early date because Richard Parker is awaiting the trial in jail, unable to make his $1 million bond. Parker is the son-in-law of retired lawyer Jon Setzer and his wife, Marion Setzer, who were killed in February after a package bomb exploded at their house.

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Legislature Considers Return of Electric Chair; State Sets 2016 Execution Date

The Tennessee Supreme Court set a date of March 15, 2016, for Donald Wayne Strouth to be executed, the Tennessean reports. Strouth has been on death row since 1978. On Tuesday, a House committee approved a bill that would make electrocution the state's method for killing inmates sentenced to death if lethal injection were declared unconstitutional or the drugs needed to carry it out were unavailable. But, WBIR reports, a handful of members said they have reservations about the electric chair, which the state has used only once since 1960.

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Assistant DA Drops Complaint Against Bebb

The Cleveland Police Department reportedly asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to look into a complaint that 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb assaulted a female assistant district attorney in his office last week. Police spokeswoman Evie West said Cynthia LeCroy Schemel, who works with Bebb, filed a complaint saying he assaulted her Wednesday and then fired her Friday. According to WRCB-TV, Schemel said Bebb grabbed her and acted like he was going to punch her after she tried to intervene in an office argument. Schemel also claimed she was targeted because she is supporting Steve Crump in the race for district attorney over Stephen Hatchett, who is supported by Bebb. Late today, however, Chattanoogan.com reported that Bebb agreed to reinstate Schemel, who in turn, agreed to drop her assault charge.

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Media Group Files Appeal in Vandy Rape Case

Access to records in a high-profile Vanderbilt University rape case is essential to ensuring the public can judge the effectiveness of Metro police and prosecutors, a media coalition argues in a new filing with the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The group is seeking access to records related to the case including text messages between players and coaches, The Tennessean reports. Chancery Court Judge Russell Perkins has ruled that some records in the case that led to charges against four former Vanderbilt football players should be made available under the state’s open records law. But he put a stay on the order pending an anticipated appeal by the city, the victim and/or the state attorney general’s office.

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Nashville DA Candidates Emphasize Differences

The first competitive race in decades to be Nashville's top prosecutor pits three lawyers with very different backgrounds against one another, The Tennessean reports. The candidates are criminal defense attorney Glenn Funk, whose campaign slogan is “GLENN gives a FUNK about JUSTICE"; Diane Lance, who has devoted the last 15 years to victims of abuse and sexual violence, both as a volunteer and as special counsel to Mayor Karl Dean; and assistant district attorney Rob McGuire, who has spent his entire 13-year career in the DA's office. All three have focused on domestic violence, a high-profile issue that came to a head recently with the release of a major plan by the city to overhaul how victims are treated in the system. Further controversy developed when it was discovered the city had withheld a larger, more detailed report critical of police, prosecutors, judges and judicial employees.

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Report: Rodriguez Decision ‘Could be Blow’ to Immigrants

The Associated Press reports that the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Friday decision in the case of Jose Rodriguez “could be a blow to immigrants who were never told that they can still be deported for a crime that has been wiped off their criminal record.” AP reporter Shelia Burke interviews immigration advocates, including the attorney who brought the case on behalf of Rodriguez, who say the decision closes an avenue for immigrants to be able to correct bad legal advice they have received in the past. The case also exposes a rift between state and federal law, they claim, since an immigrant can have a criminal record expunged by a Tennessee court but the conviction still can be used by the federal government in deportation proceedings.

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Court Passes on Range of Controversial Appeals

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to enter the controversy over businesses refusing to serve gay and lesbian customers, Scotusblog reports, turning aside an appeal from the owners of a photography studio who had refused to work with a lesbian couple. The decision leaves intact an appellate court ruling that the studio violated state law prohibiting discrimination. In other significant denials, the court refused to hear a case upholding a ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates, declined to hear a case expediting a challenge to the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s telephone data gathering, refused to hear a case on testing federal court power to overturn an arbitration award, and denied a case assessing whether death-row inmates have a right to know the method of their execution in advance. The justices did grant one appeal to be reviewed in the next term. That case tests what information a party in a state court case must provide to have the case transferred to federal court.

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Court Rules Completed Diversion Not a ‘Conviction’

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court today ruled that a guilty plea expunged after successful completion of judicial diversion is not considered a conviction, and should not be subject to review in post-conviction proceedings. The ruling came in the case of Jose Rodriguez, a Mexican citizen, who entered a guilty plea in 2007 for patronizing a prostitute in the Nashville area. He was then placed on judicial diversion. Rodriguez successfully completed his diversion and his criminal record was expunged in January 2010. The Tennessee Supreme Court found that since Rodriguez was not “convicted,” he was not eligible for post-conviction relief, which he had sought to avoid any negative immigration consequences of his guilty plea. The Chattanoogan has more.

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