News

Story Examines State Funding for Indigent Defense

The Nashville Scene today examines claims that a lack of funding has left the Nashville Public Defender’s Office understaffed to the point its case load is unmanageable, and it will no longer take on misdemeanor cases in which the defendant has made bond. The article also touches on similar problems in Shelby County, additional funding for public defense proposed by Gov. Haslam, the Indigent Defense Representation Task Force and more.

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Democrats Counter Anti-Decriminalization Bill

Legislation filed this week by state Democrats seeks to ease punishments for those found with small amounts of marijuana, the Nashville Scene reports. The bill would still classify possession of up to one-eighth of an ounce of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor, but offenders could only be punished by a fine up to $50. Rep. Harold Love, D-Nashville, said that the bill aims to establish statewide consistency and eliminate jail time and massive fines for possession of a very small amount of the drug, but not to make it legal. The legislation comes after Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown filed a bill this week that would override local ordinances that partially decriminalize marijuana.
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Grand Jury to Hear Thanksgiving Double-Murder Case

A grand jury will review charges against Joel Michael Guy Jr., a Knoxville man accused of killing his parents over Thanksgiving weekend, according to Knoxnews. Guy is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Joel Guy Sr. and Lisa Guy, after their remains were discovered dismembered and placed in an acid-based solution in their home. Guy was found and arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Nov. 28 and extradited to Knoxville earlier this month.
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Campbell Found Guilty in MPD Shooting

A Shelby County jury found Treveno Campbell guilty of second-degree murder today in the killing of Memphis police Officer Martoiya Lang in 2012, the Commercial Appeal reports. Lang was shot while attempting to serve a warrant in a narcotics investigation. She became the first female officer killed in the line of duty in the history of the Memphis Police Department. 
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Third Defendant Pleads Guilty in JailCigs Case

Former Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold’s uncle pleaded guilty today in the JailCigs case, according to the Daily New Journal. John Vanderveer pleaded guilty to one count of witness tampering. Under the terms of the agreement, he faces a $250,000 fine and a recommended prison sentence of 18 to 24 months. Arnold and Joe Rusell also previously pleaded guilty in the case
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Former Memphis Transit CEO Arrested in Human Trafficking Sting

The CEO of the Memphis Area Transit Authority who resigned on Thursday was among 42 people arrested in a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation human trafficking sting, the Commercial Appeal reports. Ron Garrison was arrested Wednesday and faces a misdemeanor charge of patronizing prostitution near a church or school. The TBI sting involved targeting individuals responding to ads on Backpage.com.
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Harwell Launches Opioid Taskforce

A new legislative task force will tackle Tennessee’s growing opioid and painkiller abuse crisis, the Tennessean reports. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, formed the task force to identify strategies to address addition, abuse and misuse of illegal and prescription drugs. The bi-partisan group will be chaired by Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville.
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Judge’s Rulings in Cannon Murder Case Remain Sealed

In the criminal case against Caleb J. Cannon, accused of murdering his wife in 2014, details about what pieces of evidence deemed relevant for the jury to consider remain sealed and secret to the public, the Tennessean reports. Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said it is odd that the case remains sealed since  much of the evidence in question has already been presented in public hearings. "When a judge decides to keep her ruling confidential, it would help the public’s understanding of the courts to explain why," Fisher said.
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Memphis, Shelby Leadership Create Legislative Wish List

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell will push the state legislature this year on a range of topics via a wish list presented to the Memphis City Council on Saturday. The list includes reducing expungement fees, stiffer sentences for convicted felons illegally in possession of firearms, equitable funding for the housing of state inmates in local jails and more. Read the full list at the Commercial Appeal.
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Shelby County Jail Riot Caused $7,000 in Damages

A riot among inmates at the Shelby County Jail on Jan. 16 caused more than $7,000 in damages, according to an affidavit that came to light Tuesday. The Commercial Appeal reports that the incident happened after 1 p.m. Inmates barricaded themselves inside a pod, tied the door shut with sheets and stacked furniture up in front of the entrance. A television, computer station, several phones and at least two security cameras were destroyed.
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Washington County Man Found Guilty of Aggravated Child Abuse

A Washington County jury has found a Telford man guilty of aggravated child abuse, reports the Johnson City Press. Joe Whitaker, 44, was accused of injuring his 7-month-old son so severely that his brain bled. Medical professionals testified that the child’s injuries were indicative of abuse, although Whitaker maintained his innocence throughout the trial. His sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 21, where he will face 15 to 25 years in prison and will serve 100 percent of his sentence. 
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Trial Begins in Memphis Police Murder

The trial of a man accused of the 2012 killing of Memphis police officer Martoiya Lang began today, reports the Commercial Appeal. Treveno Campbell, 25, is charged with killing the nine-year veteran and mother of four while she was attempting to serve a search warrant. Campbell pleaded not guilty to the crime.
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Inmates Graduate Higher Ed Program

Eighteen Tennessee inmates graduated on Thursday from a program run by Tennessee High Education Initiative, a nonprofit that works with the Tennessee Department of Corrections to bring higher education to prisoners. The Jackson Sun reports the graduates completed their 41-Hour General Education certificates, which denotes the completion of the core requirements of an associate’s and bachelor’s degree in Tennessee. The program currently includes 115 men at two prisons, Turney Center Industrial Complex and Northwest Correctional Complex, and boasts more than 300 graduates. 
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Life in Prison for Defendant in Jackson Murders

A Jackson man was convicted yesterday in the 2014 slayings of Arkansas State football player Markel Owens and his stepfather, Johnny Shivers, reports the Jackson Sun. A jury found Johnny Wade guilty of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of especially aggravated robbery, and aggravated assault, and decided that Wade will serve life in prison. Wade will return to court on March 2 for a sentencing hearing on additional charges.

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Suspect in Dobson Killing Appointed New Attorney

During a status hearing in a Knox County court today, one of the two men accused of killing Knoxville teenager Zaevion Dobson has been appointed a new lawyer, Knoxnews reports. Criminal Judge Steve Sword granted the request of Richard Gregory Williams for a new attorney, appointing Kit Rogers to the case. Williams offered no explanation for the request. Williams and co-defendant Christopher Drone Bassett face a 27-count indictment, including charges of first-degree murder, in the shooting of the 15-year-old Fulton High School football star.
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Nashville Woman Gets 15 Years for Murder of Teen

Antwana Smith today pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of 14-year-old Treyonta Burleson, and was sentenced to 15 years by a Nashville court, the Tennessean reports. Burleson was the youngest victim of gun violence in 2015, a year that was notable for the highest death rate among young people in a decade. Burleson's death was one of the catalysts for Nashville Mayor Megan Barry's youth violence initiative.
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ABA Forms Task Force to Study College Sexual Assault

The American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section has formed a Task Force on College Due Process Rights and Victim Protections, which will research and develop best practices to ensure due process for victims and the accused in sexual misconduct cases on college campuses. The findings will be drafted into a report along with recommendations and submitted to the section and ABA House of Delegates.
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Obama Cuts Sentences for Hundreds More

President Barack Obama today reduced or eliminated the sentences of hundreds more drug offenders, CNN reports. The move brings his total commutations to 1,385 individuals, the vast majority of whom have been serving mandatory minimum sentences for crimes related to distribution or production of narcotics. The group approved today also included Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of passing classified information to WikiLeaks, and James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was convicted of making false statements to investigators when questioned about leaking classified information to two journalists. The Washington Post reported yesterday that Justice Department officials have been working nonstop to complete their review of more than 16,000 clemency petitions filed by federal prisoners.

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Judge Orders TV Reporter to Release Documents

A judge on Friday ordered Nashville television reporter Phil Williams to turn over documents from his investigation of District Attorney General Glenn Funk, the Tennessean reports. After a nearly two-hour hearing, Senior Judge William Acree agreed with Funk’s lawyers that the documents will shed light on whether Williams acted with malice in publishing stories about Funk and his relationship with Nashville developer David Chase. Despite arguments by Williams’ legal team that the documents should be protected, Acree said no protections apply because the state’s shield law includes an exception for defamation cases.

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Takata Workers Indicted Over Air Bag Defects

A federal grand jury in Detroit has indicted three former employees of Takata Corp., charging them with concealing deadly defects in the Japanese company’s automotive air bag inflators, the Associated Press reports. The indictments on six counts of conspiracy and wire fraud were unsealed Friday, just hours ahead of a Justice Department news conference to announce a corporate penalty against the company. The FBI has been investigating allegations that the company deceived federal regulators and tried to cover up the air bag problems.

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Court Holds 1st Hearing on Jail Computer Problems

A hearing yesterday in Shelby County Circuit Court provided the first look at a lawsuit filed by 10 plaintiffs who say they were held at the Shelby County Jail for an “extended and unlawful” amount of time because of the county’s “abject failure” to plan for a major computer system transition. Lawyers for the plaintiffs told the court they want the county to guarantee that evidence connected to the case will not be deleted since it is on the computers that caused so many problems. A spokesperson for the county says employees are continuing to work with ongoing issues and problems are getting fixed. In related news, a third lawsuit with similar claims was filed Monday in federal court. That brings the total to two pending cases in federal court and three in total against the county. Local Memphis has more.

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DOJ to Investigate FBI’s Pre-Election Activities

The U.S. Department of Justice’s inspector general will review how the FBI and the DOJ handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced yesterday. Horowitz said the probe would include a review of whether improper considerations influenced investigative decisions and whether proper procedures were followed regarding announcement of the closed probe in July and an Oct. 28 disclosure that newly discovered emails were being investigated. FBI Director James Comey concluded after the second review that prosecution still was not warranted. Some have suggested that the late October announcement negatively impacted support for Clinton. The ABA Journal has the story.

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Bill Would Allow Open Carry without Permit

Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, has introduced legislation to eliminate the requirement that gun owners obtain a permit to openly carry handguns in Tennessee. Those wanting to carry a handgun in a concealed manner would still be required to obtain a permit, according to the legislation. Van Huss has introduced similar bills in the past but his colleagues have rejected those efforts, the Tennessean reports. Van Huss argues that 29 states, including Missouri, West Virginia and Louisiana, have some form of permitless carry.

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Funk’s Libel Suit Gets Hearing

Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk was in court today for a hearing on his libel lawsuit against NewsChannel 5 and its reporter Phil Williams. The suit stems from a story Williams did about an alleged deal Funk made with Nashville developer David Chase to close two cases. Williams refused to reveal his sources for the story, but the person who released the information, lawyer Brian Manookian, has admitting doing so, the Tennessean reports. Earlier today, Tennessean reporter Stacey Barchenger posted live reports from the hearing.

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Lawyer Legislators to Head Key Panels, Return in 2 Weeks

The Tennessee General Assembly adjourned its biannual organizational session today after speakers appointed committee chairs and members in their respective chambers. For the first time in 10 years, all three key committees dealing with legal issues will be chaired by lawyers. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, returns as Senate Judiciary Committee chair. House Criminal Justice Committee Chair William Lambreth, R-Cottontown, will continue to head that panel. And Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, will take the helm of the House Civil Justice Committee. Humphrey on the Hill has more.

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