News

2 Tennesseans Get Sentences Commuted

The Obama administration today commuted the prison sentences of 58 federal convicts, two of whom are from East Tennessee. Efrem Douglas of Knoxville and Trevis Love of Harriman were both sentenced for crimes involving cocaine. Both are scheduled to be released Sept. 2, the Associated Press reports

read more »

Sexual Abuse Victim Files $10M Suit Against Madison Church

A sexual abuse victim has filed a suit against Cornerstone Nashville church and his abuser seeking $10 million in punitive damages, The Tennessean reports. In the suit filed in Davidson County Circuit Court two weeks ago, the victim said the Madison church appointed Brian L. Mitchell to be his mentor despite Mitchell's prior criminal history and allowed them to be alone together. The suit references incidents that span 2007 and 2008. Mitchell was convicted of aggravated sexual battery for a 2007 incident after the victim told a therapist about the incident. 

read more »

Williamson County Public Defenders Limit New Cases

Assistant public defenders in Williamson County have stopped accepting some new cases due to case overload, The Tennessean reports. "We’re not refusing all cases, we're just telling the judge each day we’re in court, 'as of right now I cannot accept this case,'" said 21st District Public Defender Vanessa Bryan. But District Attorney Kim Helper is challenging the case refusals, and said she plans to file a formal objection next week that will ask the public defender to provide more evidence of the overwhelming caseloads. Indigent cases have been handed over to private attorneys, which Helper says is costing taxpayers. 

read more »

UT Sexual Assault Suit Will Continue, Judge Rules

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger today ruled a sweeping federal sexual assault lawsuit against the University of Tennessee will proceed, The Tennessean reports. Judge Trauger did grant one dismissal request from the university’s lawyers, saying the statute of limitations had expired for one plaintiff's claims of “deliberate indifference” to sexual assaults by UT athletes before her alleged sexual assault in 2013.

read more »

Former Sheriff to Receive New Trial After Trial Court Error

Former Henderson County Sheriff Ricky Lunsford, who was sentenced to prison after opening fire on his wife in a bar parking lot, will receive a new trial. According to the ruling handed down Friday by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, the trial court failed to properly instruct the jury. Lunsford has remained free on bond throughout the appeals process, WBBJ reports.   

read more »

Delay Likely for Cory Batey Sentencing, Prosecutor Says

Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman told The Tennessean today that a delay of the May 20 sentencing of Cory Batey is likely. Batey, a former Vanderbilt University football player, was convicted earlier this month for aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery. His conviction for aggravated rape alone carries 15 to 26 years in prison. Prosecutors in Batey’s case and defense attorneys for Brandon Vandenburg – another former Vanderbilt player previously convicted in the 2013 rape – met for a status hearing this morning with Judge Monte Watkins. Vandenburg’s retrial is scheduled for June 13

read more »

Retrial for Man Sentenced to Death Underway in Memphis

The retrial of Michael Rimmer, who was sentenced to death 17 years ago for killing his girlfriend, began today in Shelby County Criminal Court. The Commercial Appeal reports Rimmer’s new trial was ordered in 2012 after a judge found Rimmer’s counsel failed to effectively investigate the case. A judge also found Shelby County attorney Thomas Henderson, who prosecuted Rimmer, "purposefully misled" Rimmer’s defense counsel about evidence. 

read more »

Trial Date Set for Allison Burchett

WATE reports the trial date for Allison Burchett, the ex-wife of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, is set for Jan. 17. Allison Burchett is accused of stalking and cyber attacks against her boyfriend’s estranged wife.

read more »

Vandenburg to Face Memphis Jury in Retrial

The jury that will hear the retrial of former Vanderbilt University football player Brandon Vandenburg will be chosen in Memphis, The Tennessean reports. Vandenburg's retrial is scheduled for June 13 in Nashville. Vandenburg and Cory Batey were found guilty of aggravated rape and other charges after a 2015 trial, but a mistrial was declared due to juror misconduct. Their retrials were split due to a medical condition of one of Vandenburg’s attorneys, which resulted in a delay. Jury selection is expected to happen the week before the trial.

read more »

New Trial Scheduled After Juror's Objection on Race

Is it a true jury of peers if a person’s race is not represented? The Tennessean explores a Nashville case in which a juror’s objections to two black men facing a jury with no black jurors led to a trial delay earlier this month. The case involves two men accused of attacking two people during a 2014 fight in Madison. Defense attorneys accused the state of rejecting jurors based on race, a claim the state denied. The pair’s trial has been rescheduled for May 23. The article highlights the national precedent for jury selection and race set by the U.S. Supreme Court case Batson v. Kentucky

read more »

State Drops Sex Offender Charges Against Batey

Prosecutors dropped charges against former Vanderbilt University football player Cory Batey that accused him of violating the sex offender registry law. The Tennessean reports General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell today granted Assistant District Attorney General Addie Askew’s request to dismiss the charges. Batey’s sentencing for aggravated rape and other charges is set for May 20. 

read more »

Confidential Settlement Reached in Erin Andrews Case

Television personality Erin Andrews reached a settlement today in her lawsuit against West End Hotel Partners and Windsor Capital Group, the hotel owner and operator that allowed a stalker to secretly record her naked though a peephole. The Tennessean reports the terms of the agreement are confidential. A Nashville jury awarded Andrews $55 million in March and said Andrews’ stalker, Michael David Barrett, was responsible for $28 million of that. Attorney Randall Kinnard, who represented Andrews, had asked the judge to hold the hotel responsible for the full $55 million. 

read more »

Doctors Fight Prosecution as 'Street Dealers' for Pill-Mill

When do prescribers of medicine become drug dealers under federal law? The Knoxville News Sentinel says the question has emerged following the first federal prosecution in East Tennessee of doctors on pill-mill charges. Prosecutors say two doctors made roughly $2.5 million in 17 months from giving out thousands of prescriptions without "a legitimate medical purpose.” The pair faces trial later this year under a section of drug-trafficking laws that put them in the same category as "street dealers." U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley ruled, "The court discerns no due process violation in permitting the government to prosecute registered medical professionals." The doctors are appealing Shirley’s ruling. 

read more »

Fitbit Exposes Lies in Rape Case

A Fitbit fitness tracker recently provided crucial evidence when data pulled from the device contradicted the claims of an alleged rape victim. A Pennsylvania woman claimed an intruder raped her in the middle of the night, but according to the affidavit, data from the Fitbit showed “she was awake and walking around the entire night prior to the incident and did not go to bed as reported." The woman was ordered to two years of probation and community service. Read more from The Wall Street Journal

read more »

Attorneys Spar Over Constitutionality of Memphis Gang Injunction

A debate over the constitutionality of injunctions that restrict alleged Memphis gang members from publicly associating with each other in court-ordered zones landed in front of Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter on Tuesday. Assistant Public Defender Barbara Sidelnik argued the injunctions are “overly broad” and violated her client's constitutional rights. Assistant District Attorney Colin Campbell said the orders are “a way for citizens to take back their communities from gangs,” The Commercial Appeal reports. Potter said he will deliberate before issuing a ruling at a later date. 

read more »

Batey Refused to Register as Sex Offender

Cory Batey was charged with two felony counts of violating the state's sex offender registration law. Court records show Batey refused to register as a sex offender in Davidson County after sheriff’s officials and police asked him to do so multiple times, The Tennessean reports. Batey, a former Vanderbilt football player, is facing 15 to 25 years for his convictions earlier this month for rape. Nashville lawyer Jim Todd told The Tennessean that prosecutors could use the additional charges to argue Batey should get more prison time. 

read more »

First Latino ADA Appointed in Davidson County

District Attorney Glenn Funk appointed Lody Limbird to Division VI Criminal Court, WKRN reports. Limbard is the first Latino Assistant District Attorney to serve in Davidson County Criminal Court. “In order to understand the needs of the people we serve, it is important for public servants to also reflect the diversity of the community,” she said. The court handles prosecution of domestic violence cases with a special interest in aggravated assault by strangulation.

read more »

Annual Crime Report Shows Decrease in Reported Crime

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation today released its 2015 ‘Crime in Tennessee’ report, which revealed an overall decrease in reported instances of crime in the most recent reporting year. The annual study, however, did show forcible rape cases and reported homicides both increased. Read more from Humphrey on the Hill

read more »

Prosecutors Continue to Use Gang Law Deemed 'Unconstitutional'

Knox County prosecutors will continue to use a gang enhancement sentencing law despite the statute having been deemed unconstitutional. The Tennessee Court of Appeals struck down the law last week after ruling it was poorly drafted and too broad. Deputy District Attorney General Kyle Hixson said prosecutors will neither dismiss current charges or stop applying the law. "We are not flouting (the appellate court's) opinion. We're just preserving our rights," he said. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the state Attorney General’s office is considering whether to ask the Tennessee Supreme Court to review the ruling. 

read more »

No Warrant Required for Phone Location Records, Court Rules

A Cincinnati-based federal appeals court yesterday ruled federal agents can obtain cell phone records that reveal a caller’s location without a warrant. The decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals follows an attempt from two Detroit men, sentenced to prison for multiple robberies, who argued the cell records linking them to the location of the robberies should be excluded under Fourth Amendment protection. Judge Raymond Kethledge said the government’s collection of the records did not constitute a search. Read more from The Wall Street Journal Law Blog

read more »

Jury Negotiated Compromise in Batey Verdict, Newspaper Reports

Jurors in the trial of former Vanderbilt football player Cory Batey revealed to The Tennessean that one juror was a "holdout," resulting in a compromise after a nearly three-hour deliberation. While all other jurors were in favor of convicting Batey on all seven counts as charged for rape, "One juror refused to see the evidence that was so obvious to everyone else," juror Bobby Lewis said. The jury found Batey guilty Friday of three of those charges.

read more »

Police 'Courtesy Calls' to UT Coach Jones Revealed

The Tennessean reports Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch and a detective made “professional courtesy” calls to University of Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones about the investigation of rape allegations against team members A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams. The calls may have violated state law, according to a statement issued by the Knox County district attorney.  “A pre-arrest disclosure of sensitive information that is not made for the purpose of advancing the criminal investigation potentially could violate state law regarding the misuse of official information,” the statement said. 

read more »

Legal Community Promotes Access to Expungements

Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville, and Rep. Harold M. Love Jr., D-Nashville, along with leaders in the judicial and legal communities, today announced an initiative to improve awareness of and access to expungements in Tennessee. Under the initiative, a webpage has been launched to provide details on eligibility for expungements, links to local information and resources to help people get started. The initiative will include training for judges and court clerks as well as providing resources for them and the legal community.

read more »

'Justice System Fails Victims in Tennessee,' Author Writes

Verna Wyatt, executive director of Tennessee Voices for Victims, explains in The Tennessean how she believes the justice system fails victims in Tennessee. Wyatt references “the sensational trial of the former Vanderbilt football players accused of raping a Vanderbilt coed.” The article is published during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 10-16.

read more »

Sentencing Reform Measures Advance in U.S. Senate, House

The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act and the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 passed out of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees respectively. The measures, according to Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), address “legitimate over-incarceration concerns while targeting violent criminals and masterminds in the drug trade.” Brookings shares data on the U.S. prison population in areas the bill would impact.

read more »