News

Rape Kit Testing Leading to Indictments in Memphis

Officials say nearly 5,000 of 12,000 backlogged rape evidence kits have been tested in Memphis, leading to dozens of indictments, Memphis Daily News reports. Mayor A C Wharton Jr.'s office says investigations have resulted in 52 indictments of known individuals or their DNA profiles. From those indictments, 19 alleged rapists have been identified, including 14 believed to be multi-case offenders. Experts say Memphis has one of the nation's largest known backlogs of rape kits. Rape victims have filed a lawsuit over the untested kits.

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Former Vandy Football Players Found Guilty on All Counts

It only took jurors a few hours to find two former Vanderbilt University football players charged with raping an unconscious woman guilty on all counts. Jurors began deliberating the case this afternoon and reached the verdict around 5 p.m. Central. The day began with additional closing arguments during which defense lawyer Fletcher Long argued the prosecution had no proof that his client, Brandon Vandenburg, had inappropriately touched the woman. Prosecutors provided a 46-minute rebuttal, urging jurors to rely on videos from the night in question and not be swayed by testimony shifting blame to others or the college itself. Vandenburg and Cory Batey will face sentencing on March 6. Two other players implicated in the case are still awaiting trial. The Tennessean has details.

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Robertson County Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Sex Crimes

Robertson County attorney Edward Farmer of Springfield has pleaded guilty to sex crimes against minors in a bid to avoid jail time, though he continues to maintain his innocence. “I… deny any participation in the alleged acts,” Farmer wrote. “However, I do believe that it is in my best interest to enter into the plea agreement negotiated on my behalf by my attorneys.” Under the deal, Farmer pleaded guilty to one count of facilitation of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of attempted tampering with evidence. He will serve six years of supervised probation, must register as a sex offender and surrender his law license, according to the Tennessean.

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Closing Arguments Begin in Vandy Rape Trial

Closing arguments in the trial of two former Vanderbilt football players charged with rape began today and will continue tomorrow morning, the Tennessean reports. Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman delivered a 36-minute argument for the state followed by a nearly hour-long argument by Worrick Robinson, an attorney for Cory Batey. Robinson argued that the school’s culture of promiscuity and partying was to blame for his client’s actions. Attorneys for Brandon Vandenburg will deliver their closing arguments tomorrow. Court watchers expect jurors to begin deliberating by the end of the day.

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TBI Confirms Vote-Buying Probe in Monroe County

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) has confirmed it is probing allegations of vote buying in last August’s Monroe County sheriff’s election, Knoxnews reports. The admission comes after two former sheriff’s employees filed a discrimination lawsuit against Randy White, who they say fired them after he prevailed over incumbent Bill Bivens. The pair claims they were fired because of their allegiance to Bivens and for bringing a vote-buying scheme to the TBI’s attention. The sheriff’s election has been controversial from the start: White beat Bivens by just 700 votes. Bivens then sued, challenging White’s credentials to hold the seat. A special judge later ruled White did not have the experience to meet the requirements for the office and he was removed.

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Tullahoma City Attorney Stepping Down

After six years as Tullahoma city attorney, Randall Morrison has decided to step down and refocus his attention on building his private law practice. He recently added William Lockhart as a new partner to his firm and will be changing the firm’s name to Morrison & Lockhart, Tullahoma News reports. Morrison will continue to handle divorce and child custody cases but with the addition of Lockhart, the firm’s focus will expand to include criminal law, workers' compensation cases and personal injury cases.

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DOJ’s Public Integrity Chief May Be Heading to Nashville

According to Nashville Post sources, the head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section is coming to Nashville. Jack Smith, who has led the section since 2010, reportedly will become the second in charge in the U.S. Attorney’s office here. An official announcement is expected later this week. During Smith’s tenure in office, the section prosecuted former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and New York Congressman Michael Grimm. But it came under fire for its handling of cases against John Edwards and Ted Stevens.

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Supreme Court to Hear Lethal Injection Drug Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging the use of the sedative midazolam in executions by lethal injection, the Associated Press reports. The case, brought by death row inmates in Oklahoma, argues that the sedative is unconstitutional because it has no pain-relieving properties and that the state “hastily” chose to use it after sodium thiopental became unavailable. The case will be the first death penalty question taken up by the high court since 2008 when it approved the use of three drugs that became the standard combination used in lethal injections. The ABA Journal has the story.

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Shelby Juvenile Court to Report on Progress

The Juvenile Court of Memphis & Shelby County will hold a public forum Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. to update residents on its progress in meeting the goals of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Memorandum of Agreement, which is designed to address issues such as the disparate treatment of black youths, the high number of youth transferred to adult court, and due process rights violations. The meeting will take place at the Memphis Public Library on Poplar Ave.

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Officials: Review of Bobo Evidence Complete

Authorities say they have completed their analysis of more than 460 pieces of evidence in the murder and kidnapping case of Holly Bobo, the Associated Press reports. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which stopped working on the case after being accused of misconduct, says it has been the most exhaustive and expensive in agency history. In related news, questions are being raised over the handling of three men who have been arrested in conjunction with the case. All have pleaded not guilty, no trial has been set and defense lawyers say they have received no evidence linking their clients to the crime. The Times News has the AP story.

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Diversion an Option Even if Crime Carries Mandatory Minimum Sentence

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that a criminal offense that provides for a mandatory minimum sentence does not necessarily prevent a defendant charged with that crime from being eligible for judicial diversion. In the specific case before it, though, the court found that diversion was not appropriate based on other factors. The AOC has more on the case.

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Bailiff, 87, Hangs Up His Uniform

Paul Long, who served as the Greene County Court bailiff since 1999, retired yesterday at a ceremony where he was recognized with a plaque of appreciation from the sheriff's department. “I gotta keep going," Long said. “I've enjoyed just being here and meeting people. I've worked with a lot of judges in the last 15 years and a lot of attorneys.” Long frequently worked in Criminal Court Judge John F. Dugger Jr.’s courtroom and provided for the needs of jurors during trials. The Greenesville Sun has the story.

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AG Restricts Policing for Profit Program

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder imposed strict new limits Friday on how federal law can be used for "policing for profit,” WJRN reports. The so-called federal "equitable sharing" program — which dates back to the 1980s — allowed local police to take cash, then use federal civil forfeiture laws to try to keep it for their agencies. In his new order, the Holder said that practice must end immediately.

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Testimony in Vanderbilt Rape Case Continues, Court to Hear Appeal Over Records

Jurors saw disturbing video in court yesterday showing one of the defendants trying to have sex with the alleged victim, who was motionless on the floor, according to testimony, WRCB reports. Testimony resumed about 90 minutes late in the rape trial of Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey after discussion by the attorneys about redacting some of the images that were the center of Monday's testimony. Additionally, the Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether news media are entitled to records related to the case. The Court of Appeals in September ruled that records sought by a statewide media coalition led by The Tennessean and including The Associated Press should not be made public because they are part of a continuing police investigation. The Greeneville Sun has more.

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Chattanooga Family Justice Center to Open This Spring

The new Family Justice Center that plans to open in Chattanooga will be located in a city-owned building in the Eastgate Center. While that building is readied, it will open this spring nearby at 5741 Cornelison Drive. Executive Director Dr. Valerie Radu said 10 agencies thus far have agreed to be involved in a coordinated operation aiding domestic violence victims at a single site. Chattanooga will be part of a statewide alliance that includes six similar centers. The Chattanoogan has more.

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Antioch High Launches Youth Court

Davidson County Juvenile Judge Sheila Jones Calloway today swore in 30 Antioch High School students who will run the school’s new youth court. The move marked the end of a yearlong effort to launch a youth court at the school. There are now four youth courts in the county, including Cane Ridge, Whites Creek and McGavock high schools. The courts are supported by the Tennessee Bar Association, Metropolitan Nashville Juvenile Courts, Metro-Student Attendance Center and the MNPS Student Services Division. Read more about the Antioch program.

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DOJ Issues New Leak Investigation Guidelines

The U.S. Justice Department today issued revised guidelines for obtaining records from the news media during criminal leak investigations, the Associated Press reports. Changes include the creation of new levels of review that must be completed before a journalist can be subpoenaed and deletion of rules that had governed when news organizations could challenge subpoenas or search warrants. Media outlets had complained that the language was vague. Today’s move comes just weeks after the department formally abandoned a yearlong effort to compel a New York Times reporter to testify in the trial of a former CIA officer accused of disclosing classified information.

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UT Law Students Work on Pretrial Bail Case

University of Tennessee College of Law students played a key role in a recent Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals case testing whether a trial court can hold a defendant without bail pending a trial. The school's Informant newsletter reports that students participating in the Appellate Litigation Clinic took up the case of Latickia Tashay Burgins, who was denied pretrial bail by the Knox County Criminal Court this past October. In ruling on the case, Judge D. Kelly Thomas Jr. concluded that the law in question “violates the constitutional guarantee to pretrial bail ...” The clinic was established earlier this year and is taught by attorney and law school alumnus Wade Davies and professor Valorie Vojdik, who also serves as director of clinical programs.

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Cohen Proposes Bill to Collect Deadly Force Data

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, is pushing for a way to keep track of deadly encounters with police, Action News 5 reports. Cohen spoke on MSNBC last night about a bill he is proposing to “close a federal loophole in national statistics.” The legislation would require all police departments to provide the Justice Department with demographic information for both victims and police officers every time deadly force is used. It also would require agencies to report a justification for the use of deadly force. Current law requires the attorney general to keep track of excessive force incidents, but does not adequately define “excessive force” or provide an enforcement mechanism, Cohen said. Read more from the congressman’s press release.

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Rep. Johnson to Address Veterans’ Court

Montgomery County General Sessions Court Judge Kenneth R. Goble Jr. and the Veterans Treatment Court he oversees will hold a graduation ceremony for those completing the program, Business & Heritage Clarksville reports. The event will take place Jan. 27 at 1 p.m. at the Montgomery County Court Complex in Clarksville. State Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, will be the guest speaker.

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Documentary Wednesday Looks at Juvenile Justice Issues

The January installment of Lipscomb University’s HumanDocs Film Series will be "Kids for Cash," which screens Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. in the Shamblin Theater. The film centers on the story of former Pennsylvania juvenile judge Mark Ciavarella, sentenced to 28 years after receiving millions of dollars from private juvenile detention facilities where he was assigning kids. While the documentary offers a surprisingly nuanced portrait of Ciavarella, it also explores general issues with the U.S. juvenile justice system. A panel discussion will include Preston Shipp, attorney and former prosecutor, and Phyllis Hildreth, academic director of Lipscomb’s Institute for Conflict Management. The event is free and open to the public. For more information contact Ted Parks.

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Will Ability to Text Prove Rape Suspect's Intoxication Level?

Before Judge Monte Watkins today prosecutors used an unusual tack to argue that accused rapist and former Vanderbilt football player Cory Batey was not so severely intoxicated the night of a rape that he did not know what was happening. Prosecutors were asking the judge to prevent a doctor from testifying about intoxication at trial. Their contention was that if he could spell "quesadilla" in a text, then he was not "too drunk," the Tennessean reports. Batey's defense team will argue that Batey was too drunk to form the intent to commit some of the crimes for which he is accused. Defense attorney Worrick Robinson said the quesadilla argument was invalid because a drunken spelling could have been fixed by autocorrect.

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Miss. Judge Gets 5 Months for Obstruction of Justice

A former Mississippi Chancery Court judge has been sentenced to five months in prison for obstruction of justice, WMC-TV reports. Joe Dale Walker of Monticello, Miss., pleaded guilty in October to witness tampering alleged in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Jackson. Prosecutors say Walker instructed a federal grand jury witness to destroy documents and then lied to FBI agents.

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Burch Honored with Drug Court Service Award

Retired 23rd Judicial District Circuit Judge Robert E. Burch recently was honored by the Tennessee Association of Drug Court Professionals for 14 years of service to drug courts. The group presented its Outstanding Service Award to Burch at its annual conference. Burch, who retired in August, said being involved in drug court was one of the most rewarding things he has done. Among the innovations he spearheaded while on the bench was a sober living residence operated by the court and a separate women’s program. Read more about his work in the Tennessean.

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350 Issues Later, 'Journal' Looks Back Over 50 Years

The Tennessee Bar Journal celebrates the Big Five-Oh this year, publishing its 350th issue this month. Each issue of 2015 will feature a stroll down memory lane -- in January, in conjunction with the magazine's Access to Justice emphasis, it looks at how the bar's view of pro bono has changed over the years. Also, columnist Marlene Eskind Moses looks at criminal contempt in family law asking "Can criminal contempt create compliance?"

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