News

$6M Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed in Anderson County

Marcella “Marcy” Bunch, mother of a 23-year old man who was shot and killed while he was confined to his wheelchair, has filed a $6 million wrongful death lawsuit. The suit names Joseph McClane, who accidentally shot Bunch’s son in 2014, and the man who gave McClane the gun as defendants. Bunch also filed the suit against Robert and Melissa Kemp, whose Anderson County home is where the shooting occurred. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the lawsuit says the incidents "were negligently contrary to those honorable people who responsibly adhere to their Second Amendment right to bear arms for their own protection in a responsible manner."

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Ford Remembered by Many as Hard Working

Judge Richard Ray Ford was remembered at his memorial service last week as "one of the hardest working Knox County Criminal Court judges in recent history." Ford died Dec. 20 at 93. Among the dignitaries speaking at his memorial were retired state Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Joe D. Duncan, who practiced law with Ford in the 1950s, and Duncan's brother, John J. Duncan Sr., the longtime Knoxville mayor and congressman. Knoxnews columnist Georgiana Vines has the details.

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Former Crossville Attorney Pleas No Contest in Arson Case

Former Crossville attorney Anthony Wayne Turner pleaded no contest to setting fire to personal property in an arson case. He is accused of being responsible for a fire that destroyed his sister's Cumberland County home, the Crossville Chronicle reports. Turner, whose law license was suspended in 2009 by the Tennessee Supreme Court, received a one-year suspended sentence to be served on supervised probation. 

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Protesters Attend Yocca's Hearing in Rutherford County

Security was increased at Circuit Court Judge Royce Taylor’s courtroom this morning after more than a dozen protesters from three states showed up for Anna Yocca’s remote arraignment hearing, The Daily News Journal reports. Yocca is charged with attempted first-degree murder after a failed attempt to end her pregnancy. No discussion hearing or plea date were set.

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Pennsylvania High Court Says Governor Can Delay Executions

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the governor's constitutional authority to postpone executions in the state, The Associated Press reports. Gov. Tom Wolf issued the moratorium after taking office last January, saying the death penalty system was "riddled with flaws, making it error prone, expensive and anything but infallible." Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams challenged Wolf’s decision. "We extend our condolences to the victims of these horrendous crimes, who will not soon see the justice that was imposed by the jury and upheld by the courts," Williams said.

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Judge Frees Man Convicted of Threatening Attorney

Leon Houston was freed Monday by U.S. District Judge Pamela Reeves after Houston spent 35 months in jail on a federal charge of being high on marijuana and possessing guns when he threatened to kill attorney Jim Logan. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports Reeves sentenced Houston to time served on the conviction and placed Houston on supervised release for two years. Logan represented Houston in the 2006 shooting deaths of Roane County Sheriff's Office Deputy Bill Jones and Mike Brown.

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Former 3 Doors Down Bassist Sentenced to Prison

Nashville Criminal Court Judge Mark Fishburn sentenced former 3 Doors Down bassist Robert "Todd” Harrell to two years in prison following a fatal crash, The Tennessean reports. Police found alprazolam and oxycodone in his system on the night of the 2013 accident. The conditions of Harrell’s probation include speaking at six schools while he is on probation about drug addiction and he is required to work with the Governor’s Highway Safety Office on its new anti-DUI campaign.

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Some PCC Inmates to be Released in Rutherford County

Federal Judge Kevin Sharp ordered on Thursday the release of at least 14 inmates who are being held solely on the basis of a Pathways Community Corrections violation of probation warrant, the Daily News Journal reports. The probation company, formerly Providence Community Corrections, is named in a federal lawsuit filed that claims the company and Rutherford county profited by keeping people on probation for extra time and charging excessive fees. Sharp also ordered PCC to immediately stop violating probationers solely for non-payment of fees. “The ruling mandates significant immediate changes to how all misdemeanor probationers are treated by PCC, Inc. and Rutherford County,” Alec Karakatsanis, attorney for the plaintiffs in a class-action case brought against PCC, said in an update from the DNJ.

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Legitimacy of Facebook Posts Delay Rape Trial

Facebook posts from a 16-year-old rape victim paused day two of the trial of Jesus Martinez Wednesday in Murfreesboro, The Daily News Journal reports. The prosecution and defense both had concerns over the legitimacy of the posts, which would help in determining a timeline of events that took place in 2013. The trial continued today. 

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Attorney Seeks Video of Darrius Stewart Shooting

Attorney Carlos Moore announced a $2,500 reward for anyone who has video footage capturing the shooting of Darrius Stewart by Memphis police office Connor Schilling, the Memphis Flyer reports. Moore will hand the video footage to the Department of Justice and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. "As attorneys for this family, we want to leave no stone unturned," Moore said. The Department of Justice announced earlier this week it is reviewing the July shooting.

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Madison County Closer to Jail Expansion Project

The Madison County Correction Partnership Committee unanimously approved the beginning stages of collecting bids for a future expansion of the county jail, The Jackson Sun reports. The request for qualifications will allow architecture firms to submit plans for expanding the Jackson-Madison County Criminal Justice Complex.

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Decreased Executions Reflect Lack of Support for Death Penalty

Executions in the United States have dropped to the lowest level since 1991, the Associated Press reports. The Death Penalty Information Center said 28 inmates were executed as of Dec. 15, far below the peak of 98 in 1999. “What we’re seeing is the cumulative effect of falling public support for the death penalty,” Robert Dunham, the group’s executive director, said.

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Judge Binkley Defends Rep. Durham on Facebook

Circuit Court Judge Michael W. Binkley is defending a request by Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, in which he asked for leniency for a former pastor convicted of child porn possession, The Tennessean reports. Binkley said in a Facebook post that the decision showed “moral courage” and “guts.” The post has since been deleted.

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Report: Small Counties Increasing Jail Population

The Daily Times asserts overcrowding issues in big city jails highlighted Tuesday by the Associated Press are plaguing Blount County. The story said small counties are driving up the country's jail population based on incarceration trends from the Vera Institute of Justice. The AP reported U.S. jails now hold nearly 700,000 inmates on any given day, up from 157,000 in 1970.

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Former Clarksville Teen Convicted in Murder, Rape of Teacher

A former Clarksville teen was convicted today in Massachusetts of raping and killing his high school teacher, the Associated Press reports. Philip Chism, now 16, was tried as an adult and faces life in prison on the first-degree murder charge. As a juvenile, he cannot by law receive a life sentence without parole. A status hearing is set for Dec. 22 to discuss sentencing.

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Family of Murdered Woman Receives $33M in Judgment

An order from Eight Judicial District Circuit Court Judge John McAfee awarded $33 million to the children of Jean Johnson, a Scott County woman who was murdered by her ex-husband in 2007. Douglas V. Whisnant, who pled guilty to murder charges in 2010, refused to answer questions during a video disposition last month. The refusal resulted in the cancellation of a jury trial in the case, the Independent Herald reports. “We have sent a message that domestic violence will absolutely not be tolerated,” Campbell County attorney Kathy Parrott said.

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Legislation Would Increase Time for Especially Aggravated Burglary

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, introduced on Monday legislation to increase the amount of time served for those convicted of especially aggravated burglary. Those convicted of the crime would be ineligible for parole to ensure no less than 85 percent of the sentence is served. “This is when someone breaks into your home and beats you," Kelsey said. "The idea that these violent offenders could be eligible for release after a few years for a crime that will affect his or her victims for the rest of their lives is astounding." Read more from The Chattanoogan.

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Dept. of Justice to Review Darrius Stewart Case

A team of FBI agents, federal prosecutors and attorneys from the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in Washington D.C. will conduct a review of the shooting of Darrius Stewart by Memphis police officer Connor Schilling. Federal authorities announced Monday the review will be “independent, impartial and thorough,” The Commerical Appeal reports. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file of the case was posted yesterday for public review at the website of Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich. 

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Couple Files $7.5M Suit After Death of Son

Attorney T. Scott Jones filed a lawsuit on behalf of John and Candi Hall that seeks $7.5 million in damages following the 2014 shooting death of the couple’s son, Evan Hall, in West Knox County.  WBIR reports that the suit accuses Bailey's Sports Grille of illegally serving alcohol to the 19-year-old. The suit also names shooting suspect Jack Bush and his parents.

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Just City to Hold Fundraiser Tonight for Clean Slate Fund

Just City will hold a fundraising event tonight in Memphis for the nonprofit’s Clean Slate Fund, which helps nonviolent ex-offenders expunge their criminal records. “Wonder” is free and open to the public. Doors will open at 6 p.m. at Amurica, 410 N. Cleveland. Read more from The Commercial Appeal.

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State Rep. Requested Leniency in Child Porn Case

House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, asked a federal judge for a lenient sentence for a former youth pastor convicted of possessing child porn. The Associated Press reports that Joseph Todd Neill, who previously worked at North Fork Baptist Church in Shelbyville, was sentenced to more than three years in prison. A grand jury last week declined to indict Durham on prescription fraud charges.

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High Court to Review Blood-Alcohol Test Laws

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday it will review state laws that make it a crime to refuse to take a blood alcohol test if the officer does not have a warrant, The Washington Post reports. Challengers in the case from North Dakota say the laws violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. The court also announced it will review a challenge to the federal government’s ability to define wetlands.

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Rutherford County Inmates' Families Attend Christmas Event

Inmates at the Rutherford County Detention Center were able to spend time with their families Saturday at New Vision Baptist Church’s annual Christmas event. The Tennessean reports more than 300 children and families were in attendance. The event was coordinated by Prison Fellowship, an organization that helps facilitate similar gatherings across the country.

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Tennessee DAs Release Legislative Agenda

The legislative agenda for Tennessee’s district attorneys includes increasing the punishment for child porn videos, Kingsport Times-News reports. "We can enhance punishment depending on how many images you have," Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said. "Currently, one photo and one video (of child porn) are the same. We want to propose that one video, which is made up of multiple images, be counted as 51 photos." The agenda also includes toughening laws for school bus drivers who use electronic devices while operating a bus and establishing aggravated sexual battery as a lesser offense.

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Shelby County Mental Health Court to Open in January

The Shelby County Mental Health Court, a voluntary program that will attempt to help nonviolent, mentally ill criminals get help instead of jail time, is set to open next month. WREG reports county departments and state agencies met Thursday to discuss plans for the court. "It'll allow us to divert people with mental illnesses from the prison environment, which is very costly," Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said. Judge Gerald Skahan will preside over the court.

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