News

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cohen: Independent Prosecutors Should Investigate Shootings

In light of the recent violence both against and by the police, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, is calling for legislation that would require states to appoint independent prosecutors to examine law enforcement shootings. Cohen argues that because state prosecutors have to work closely with law enforcement to do their jobs, they should not be responsible for investigating and prosecuting instances of deadly force. WPLN has the story.

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Wilson County Man Fights for Exoneration

A man who served 31 years for a crime he did not commit has hired attorneys to help continue his fight for exoneration. The Tennessean reports Lawrence McKinney, 60, was found guilty of rape in 1978, but was released in 2009 after DNA evidence cleared him of the crime. McKinney’s record has been since expunged, but he has not been exonerated, though he applied once shortly after his release. The Tennessee Board of Parole recently informed McKinney and his attorneys, David Raybin and Jack Lowery, that it was considering a hearing.
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Journal Columns This Month: ADR, Crime, Mohammad Ali

Columns in the July Tennessee Bar Journal cover subjects from alternative dispute resolution all the way to boxing. Russell Fowler delves into the history of ADR in his column, "History's Verdict" and Wade Davies explains defining and limiting the community caretaking exception in his column, "Crime & Punishment." In "But Seriously, Folks!" Bill Haltom looks at the long, unlikely and complicated relationship between Mohammad Ali and the lawyer, Howard Cosell. Marlene Eskind Moses and Benjamin Manuel Russ update their "Family Matters" column that was published in May with new information after the General Assembly took action that significantly changed the advice rendered in that piece. Read "Legislative Actions Alter QDRO Advice."

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ABA: Safety of Society Relies on Rule of Law

Following police-involved shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana., and St. Paul, Minnesota., as well as the killing of five police officers in Dallas, ABA President Paulette Brown issued a statement, saying that "Our civil society and the safety of all in it – citizens and law enforcement – rely on the rule of law. It is imperative that the law be fairly applied and enforced. All citizens must perceive our justice system as fair. It also is essential that laws and authority are respected and followed." Brown writes that the ABA is "urgently exploring opportunities to develop creative solutions to this problem that affects us all… The ABA calls on all lawyers to work quickly and collaboratively toward viable and just answers to these issues.” Related, police officers in Nashville and Memphis were disciplined this week for what were deemed inappropriate social media posts about the shootings, the Tennessean reports.
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Retirement Reception for Thurman July 27

A retirement ceremony for Tom Thurman, deputy district attorney general for the 20th District of Tennessee, will be July 27 at 4 p.m. at the Washington Square Building, located at 222 2nd Ave N., in Nashville. NewsChannel 5 has a profile on Thurman, who most recently served as prosecutor in the Brandon Vandenburg trial, and whose 39-year career also included the prosecution of accused murderer Perry March.

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Suspect to Claim Self-Defense in Greene Shooting

The man accused of shooting former Metro Nashville Councilman and lawyer Loniel Greene will claim self-defense in the case. Brandon Hunt-Clark, 20, was charged in the Nov. 4 shooting of Greene outside a Nashville gas station. After being named as a suspect in the case, Hunt-Clark was arrested in Mississippi on an unrelated robbery charge, and was finally brought back to Nashville on Tuesday. Greene resigned from the council after the shooting after he was accused of lying in court. The Tennessean has more.
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Seeking Shorter Sentences, Public Defenders Inundate Courts

Tennessee courts have seen hundreds of lawsuits recently from federal public defenders looking to shorten the sentences of current inmates, according to the Tennessean. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling from June of last year that limited which prior convictions qualified a person as a “career offender” and its one-year deadline is the cause of the recent flurry of lawsuits. Henry Martin, the federal public defender for the Middle District of Tennessee, said lawyers in his office filed motions to set aside the sentences in more than 140 cases. In East Tennessee, more than 220 similar motions were filed, according to Federal Community Defender Beth Ford. In West Tennessee, public records show more than 140 filings since May 1. David Rivera, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, said that prosecutors in his office would go through each appeal on a case by case basis.
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Hamilton County Weighs ‘Safety Zone’ Measures Against Gangs

Hamilton County is considering using injunctions from judges to create “safety zones” that would prevent gang members from gathering, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. District Attorney General Neal Pinkston said Wednesday that the measures would ban certain activities in neighborhoods around Chattanooga. The DA’s office has not yet decided exactly which activities would be prohibited or which geographic areas would be included. Thomas Castelli, legal director for the ACLU of Tennessee, said he believes that the orders could constitute a civil rights violation. Castelli said the courts should be “careful to use language that can’t be interpreted so broadly as to affect a current gang member’s ability to live an ordinary life.” Other Tennessee cities, including Memphis and Nashville, have used gang injunctions, which were made possible under a 2009 state law and strengthened in 2014.
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Justice Dept. Begins Investigation into Sterling Shooting

The U.S. Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge, Louisiana., police, reports The New York Times. The incident was captured on video and shared widely on social media, prompting protests over the police killing of an African-American man. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards promised a thorough investigation. “I have very serious concerns,” Edwards said. “The video is disturbing, to say the least.”
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