News

DA Funk Sues TV Reporter Following Investigation

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk filed a $200 million lawsuit against NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams and Scripps Media Inc., the station's parent company, after the station aired a story Wednesday alleging Funk blackmailed David Chase. Funk disputes those claims in the lawsuit, but acknowledges that his office did dismiss criminal charges against Chase in exchange for Chase dropping his federal lawsuit against the Metro Police Department.  NewsChannel 5 says that it stands behind the story. Read more from The Tennessean

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Investigation Reveals DA Made a 'Secret Deal' with David Chase

Controversy surrounding David Chase, developer who was arrested in 2014 for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, has increased as a Nashville Scene investigation revealed consultant Bill Fletcher requested $2 million from Chase “to make it all go away.” Chase revealed the request in a civil lawsuit he filed against people he claims conspired against him. WTVF reports Chase's mother said that she never believed the money requested was for Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk, who eventually agreed to drop the charges against her son. Funk denies any wrongdoing, but WSMV reports Funk made a secret deal with Chase that required him to drop charges against the Metro Police Department in exchange for his (Chase's) charges being dropped. The public was never alerted about that deal. 

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11-year-old Found Guilty of First-Degree Murder

An 11-year-old White Pine boy was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2015 killing of an 8-year-old girl, the Citizen Tribune reports. Fourth Judicial District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said the juvenile court “ordered the boy to be sent to the Department of Children’s Services for a determinate sentence until his 19th birthday."

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Greene Will Not be Prosecuted After Lying in Court

The Tennessean reports former Metro Nashville Councilman Loniel Greene will not be prosecuted after admitting that he lied in court last month when he said the $10,000 he paid to get his cousin out of jail was his own money. Greene said Nashville prosecutors granted him immunity from prosecution on charges of money laundering and perjury in exchange for his testimony and resignation from Metro Council.

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Restraint Chair Policy Change Included in $50K Settlement

The Knox County Law Director's Office and attorney Troy L. Bowlin II reached a $50,000 settlement last month in a federal civil-rights lawsuit filed on behalf of an inmate who was strapped into a controversial restraint chair. Convicted killer Lavonte Simmons was strapped to the chair – known as the “be sweet chair” – for nearly 48 hours in 2014. The settlement also brings a change in policy for the chair, which includes approval from a designated officer and time limits. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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Senate Committee Approves Pot Prosecution Bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would make three or more convictions for simple possession or casual exchange of marijuana a misdemeanor rather than a felony, The Tennessean reports. The Republican-sponsored bill’s fiscal note says the changes to prosecution are expected to decrease the state’s incarceration costs by as much as $2 million. The changes are part of a bill package that includes enhancing Tennessee’s DUI laws.

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Delaware Judge Puts Death Penalty Decisions on Hold

Delaware Superior Court President Judge Jan Jurden announced Monday that all capital cases will be put on hold while the state supreme court discusses if the state’s capital punishment structure is constitutional. The decision follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January that struck down a Florida death-penalty sentencing law similar to Delaware’s. Read more from the ABA Journal.

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Knox County Seeks Sanctions Against Attorney in Jail Beating Case

A Knox County Sheriff’s Office deputy and jailer accused in the videotaped beating of a mentally ill inmate are demanding sanctions against the attorney who filed a $5 million civil-rights lawsuit, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. The lawmen accuse attorney Lance Baker of violating federal court rules in interviews he granted with media regarding his client, Louis Flack Jr. They also accuse Baker of seeking publicity and putting his interests ahead of his client's.

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Court Date Set for Teens in Assault Case

The court date for three teens charged in the assault of an Ooltewah student is set for March 15, WTVC reports. The students were charged in Sevier County for an incident that occurred in Gatlinburg during a basketball tournament. It is unclear if Sevier County prosecutors will charge the teens as adults. Three Ooltewah school staff members have also been charged in the incident for failing to report abuse. 

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BPR Seeks Censure for DA Amy Weirich

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility is seeking the censure of Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich and prosecutor Stephen Jones following a complaint of ethical misconduct filed against both attorneys. Weirich said the complaint was initiated by a friend of convicted murderer Noura Jackson, WREG reports. The state Supreme Court ordered a new trial after the Court found Weirich failed to turn over a key witness’s statement to the defense. “A difference of judicial opinions is not uncommon with legal issues,” Weirich said. “Nothing done by myself or by my co-counsel in this trial should warrant disciplinary action.”

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Defendant Claims He Tried to Take Alleged Torture Victim to Hospital

A case in Knox County Criminal Court took another twist when the man who beat and tortured his friend claimed he also attempted to take the victim to the hospital, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Nehad Abdelnabi is accused of beating Naser Ferwanah with a baseball bat to get him to confess he made a sex tape with Abdelnabi’s wife. Ferwanah denied the allegation and refused to go to the hospital. 

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Man Who Stole Narcotics from Hospitals Sentenced to Drug Court

Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole ordered Ryan Epperson, a county jailer who posed as a surgeon to steal narcotics from three Chattanooga hospitals, to drug court. Epperson’s charges, including drug, vandalism and burglary, were reduced to a six-year sentence as part of a plea agreement. “He's given an opportunity now to deal with his addiction,” said Bill Speek, Epperson’s attorney. Read more from the Times Free Press.

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Court Considers 'Good Faith Exception' in Davidson Appeal

The Tennessee Supreme Court today heard the appeal of of Lemaricus Davidson, who was sentenced to die for his role in the January 2007 slayings of Knoxville couple Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. The justices said they are interested in crafting a “good faith exception” to apply to a search warrant mistake brought by attorneys for Davidson in the appeal. “This court has the authority to adopt that, and we want to know if we should adopt that," Justice Jeffrey Bivins said during oral arguments. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel

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Vanderbilt Survey Suggests More Sexual Assaults Than Reported

A new Vanderbilt University survey reveals sexual assaults are happening more frequently than previously reported by school officials. The Tennessean reports that one survey, taken by 1,651 students, found that 156 respondents said they had been victims of sexual assault during the 2014-15 school year. The school’s annual campus security report said 23 sexual assaults were reported at Vanderbilt in 2014. "I was really impressed that Vanderbilt wants to look at these results and figure out what the next step is," said Kathy Walsh, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

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Police Misconduct Databases Valuable for Attorneys

The ABA Journal highlights the growing popularity of databases containing public information about police misconduct allegations and shootings by officers. The databases, both national and local, have provided criminal defense attorneys with potentially valuable information.

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Davidson County Launches Sex Trafficking Intervention Court

The Davidson County District Attorney’s Office announced it will launch a sex trafficking intervention court in an effort to combat sex slavery. WKRN reports victims will be offered long-term services instead of automatic jail time. The program – Cherished H.E.A.R.T.S. of Nashville – is scheduled to begin next month.

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Obama Bans Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Prisons

President Barack Obama announced yesterday a ban on solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. “It has been linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior,” the president wrote in an op-ed posted Monday evening on The Washington Post’s website. The new rules also prohibit the use of solitary confinement for prisoners who commit “low-level infractions.”

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Court Will Hear Appeal Tomorrow in Christian-Newson Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Knoxville in the direct appeal of Lemaricus Davidson, the man sentenced to death for his role in the 2007 murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Davidson was sentenced to death by a Knox County jury after he was convicted of of multiple charges in 2009, including two counts of first degree murder and three counts of aggravated rape. The Court will also hear an appeal from Thomas William Whited, who contends he should have not have received a 22-year sentence after he was charged for secretly recording videos of his 12-year-old daughter and her minor friends as they got undressed. The oral arguments are open to the public and will begin at 10 a.m. EST at the Supreme Court building, 505 W Main St.

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DC Judge Calls for Ban on Expert Gun-Match Claims

A Washington, D.C., appellate judge says a court rule is needed to ban statements from experts on “unique ballistics matches,” The Washington Post reports (reg. req.). The request from Judge Catherine Easterly comes after an expert incorrectly testified that a match between bullet slugs found in a murder victim’s vehicle and a gun found in the convicted killer’s bedroom was a match. Claims that forensic experts can match a bullet or shell casing found at a crime scene to a specific weapon lack a scientific basis and should be barred, Easterly writes.

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Memphis Police Dept. Under Investigation, Attorney Says

WMCActionNews5 reports the Department of Justice is investigating the entire Memphis Police Department following the death of Darrius Stewart. The announcement was made by Stewart's family lawyer. Attorneys from the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division announced at the end of last year that it would conduct a review of the shooting.

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Committee to Review Unprocessed Evidence in Hamilton County

District Attorney Neal Pinkston named an "external citizen committee" to oversee the inventory and review the decades of unprocessed evidence discovered in November in Hamilton County. Nooga reports the unanalyzed evidence relates to homicides, suicides and accidental deaths that occurred between 1986-2002. "I guess it could potentially exonerate someone or make them more guilty, or it may have no effect at all," Pinkston said. 

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Court's Ruling on Autopsy Report Sets Legal Precedent

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports an opinion issued last week by the Tennessee Supreme Court set legal precedent in the state when the court ruled that an autopsy report can serve as evidence in a murder trial – even when the medical examiner who wrote it is no longer available to testify. Dr. Sandra Elkins, formerly Knox County’s chief medical examiner, was forced to step down after authorities say she suffered a drug relapse. Bob Jolley, defense attorney for Thomas Lee Hutchison in the case, argued that Hutchison had the right to confront Elkins if the autopsy were to be admitted. Justice Holly Kirby said that the justices agreed an autopsy report does not itself accuse a particular defendant of murder but only documents that a killing took place. Read the full opinion authored by Justice Kirby.

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Luncheon with Nebraska Senator to Discuss Death Penalty

The Tennessee Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty will host a luncheon with Nebraska state Sen. Colby Coash on Jan. 27 at noon at the Nashville City Center office of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis located at 511 Union Street. Sen. Coash, R-Lincoln, was a key figure in the repeal last year of Nebraska’s death penalty and will discuss why many state are questioning the alignment of their capital punishment systems with conservative values. The event is free and lunch is $11. Register by Jan. 25 to Amy Lawrence.

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Prosecutors Seek Life Without Parole for Man Charged in Killing

In a rare move for Knox County prosecutors, the group announced it will seek life without parole for Timothy Dwayne Ison, who is accused of killing a woman on a city greenway. The prosecutors cited “the randomness of the attack” and Ison’s violent past as cause in the legal notice, according to The Knoxville New Sentinel reports. Life without parole requires a separate mini-trial before a jury and may only be imposed by a jury.

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Court Upholds Conviction in Knox County Murder Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court today upheld the conviction of a man for facilitation of aggravated robbery and facilitation of the first degree murder of a Knox County man. Thomas Hutchinson appealed his convictions, arguing that his constitutional rights were violated in two ways: (1) The medical examiner who testified at Hutchinson’s trial was not the examiner who performed the autopsy report on the victim; (2) Police officers who entered Hutchison’s home seized evidence without first obtaining a warrant. The Court of Criminal Appeals found no violations of Hutchinson’s constitutional rights. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld that ruling. Read the opinion in State of Tennessee v. Thomas Lee Hutchison, authored by Justice Holly Kirby.

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