News

Parole Official Out After Critical Audit

A top parole official has resigned following the exposure of systemic problems with the state parole system, the Tennessean reports. Gary Tullock, assistant commissioner for community supervision at the Department of Correction, resigned Wednesday after a subcommittee hearing where lawmakers blasted officials for supervising dead felons and improperly supervising live ones.

Court Stays Retrial of Christian/Newsom Defendants

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a stay in the proceedings involving three of four defendants in one of Knoxville's most horrific criminal cases. The move comes after the state Attorney General's Office filed an appeal of Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood's refusal to step down from the cases. According to the News Sentinel, the court gave the attorneys for the defendants until Monday to respond to the state’s appeal. The state is seeking to remove Blackwood from the case. 

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Judge, Lawyers Work on Jury Pool for Baumgartner Trial

Former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner wants a jury selected from East Tennessee for his Oct. 23 trial, the News Sentinel reports. But U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer warned that he would not delay the upcoming trial more than a week or so should a jury not be seated in Knoxville. Baumgartner's lawyers and assistant U.S. attorneys met Monday in Greer's Greeneville courtroom to hammer out details of the trial. Greer said he will summon 100 potential jurors in hopes of having a large enough pool to ferret out those prejudiced by the media coverage of both Baumgartner's misdeeds and the resulting chaos in the Knox County judicial system. Baumgartner's lawyers are asking Greer to require potential jurors to submit answers in advance of the trial to a detailed questionnaire that asks them, among other things, whether they've ever been involved in a divorce situation. Greer's response: "That's awfully personal."

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Former Prosecutor Convicted in Sex-for-Leniency Scandal

Former Hawkins County assistant prosecutor John Douglas Godbee was convicted of felony official misconduct this morning, Knoxnews.com reports. He had been accused of soliciting sex from female defendants for leniency.

Court: Conviction on Bad Checks Can Be Used to Impeach Credibility

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that passing worthless checks could be used to impeach a defendant's credibility. In a trial against Wanda F. Russell, who was indicted on four counts of theft, the court stated that the prior misdemeanor conviction was admissible to impeach her credibility since it involves dishonesty. Learn more from the Administrative Office of the Courts

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AG's Office Asks Appeals Court to Take Blackwood Off Case

The state Attorney General's Office is appealing Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood's refusal to recuse himself from hearing the Christian/Newsom murder trials. The News Sentinel reports that the AG has asked the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn Kerry’s decision to continue, arguing he has lost objectivity.

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Roane County Lawyer Arrested for Contempt

Roane County attorney Spence Bruner was arrested for contempt of court on Wednesday, RoaneCounty.com reports. According to an order from the Court of Criminal Appeals in Knoxville, Bruner was ordered to appear before a panel of the court on Sept. 18, but he did not show up. He was booked into the jail that morning and was released a short time later on a $5,000 bond.

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Putnam Sheriff Hosts Anti-Crime Event

The Putnam County Sheriff's Department will host Community Night in the Justice Center parking lot Friday, giving families a chance to have fun and visit with officers and other emergency personnel. The annual event, also called a Night Out Against Crime, features food and drink booths, games and drawings for door prizes for both kids and adults, educational booths and free blood pressure checks. The event is 5 to 8 p.m. Read more in the Herald Citizen

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Ruling Allows Baumgartner Trial to Proceed

U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley issued a ruling Wednesday turning aside former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner's contention the federal case brought against him earlier this year is fatally flawed, the News Sentinel reports. The decision, if upheld by U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer of Greeneville, paves the way for an Oct. 23 trial of Baumgartner on seven felony counts. Baumgartner's lawyers, Donald A. Bosch and Ann Short, had attacked the federal charges on four major fronts, but Shirley rejected them all.

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Judge Inspects Maury Jail for Alleged Poor Conditions

Fourteen Maury County inmates have sued Sheriff Enoch George, claiming their living conditions violate the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The suits allege that the jail has been negligent in its food preparation, sanitation, medical services, bed space and pest control. George gave U.S. District Court Judge William Haynes and others a tour of the jail during the pretrial conference Tuesday. Although cameras were not allowed on the tour, the Daily Herald reported standing water in front of cell doors, spider bites on inmates they claimed were left untreated, and bed mats stained with white and brownish substances. Among the judge’s biggest concerns, he said, were nutrition, hygienic needs, medical requests, overcrowding, environmental and sanitation concerns, recreation and the jail’s grievance procedure.

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Sheriff, DA Explain System in Wake of Shooting Charge

Responding to questions of why a Tennessee State trooper and his family were charged in the death of his grandchild, the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and the 10th Judicial District Attorney General’s Office issued a joint statement Monday. In part, the statement said "Every death by any weapon is investigated by law enforcement. After the investigation is finished often cases are submitted to the grand jury for their review. While all of us regret the suffering of those who loved [the 3-year-old], we respect the findings of 12 Bradley County citizens who returned an indictment." The statement went on to say it was now their duty to evaluate the case and "search for justice." The Cleveland Daily Banner has the story

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Feds Step Up Effort to Combat Crime Against Memphis Area Hispanics

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton joined Latino leaders in Memphis Monday to announce a partnership to attack crime against the Hispanic community, the Commercial Appeal reports. Regional Mexican Consul David Manuel Preciado Juarez came from Little Rock to express his support for strengthening relations between law enforcement and the region's more than 700,000 Hispanic residents.

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DNA Cases at FBI Moving Quicker Through System

The FBI laboratory has reduced its backlog of forensic DNA cases by 87 percent in two years, from 3,211 cases to 403 cases, the Associated Press reports. The Justice Department's inspector general attributes most of the decline to increased staffing and use of automated technology. Also, the FBI is focusing on cases where DNA testing of biological evidence is more likely to yield useful information.

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Staubus Talks About His Calling as Prosecutor

Barry Staubus looks back on his first year as Sullivan County district attorney general in this profile. He says he views the job as a calling, and talks about his work to battle synthetic drugs, his increased administrative responsibilities, and moving the office toward using electronic case files. Last year, when Greeley Wells retired, Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Staubus as the county’s top prosecutor until the next election. Last month with no opposition, he was elected to fill out the remainder of Wells’ term, which ends in 2014. Read more about him from TriCities.com

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Bradley Co. Won't Add Deputy, But Helps Inmates with Education

Bradley County commissioners will not fund a new deputy position, even though Sheriff Jim Ruth says the county needs one, the Times Free Press reports. In other news, Ruth has been instrumental in helping inmates at the Bradley County Justice Center get their GED's, as 20 will take the test this fall through a new Bradley County Department of Corrections program. According to testing coordinator for the county's adult high school, Charlotte Samples, a released inmate with a GED is 50 percent less likely to be imprisoned again.

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Maryville Law Firm Lost to Fire

The building that housed the Maryville law firm of Gribble, Carpenter & Associates burned in a fire last week, and the firm -- comprised of William (Billy) Gribble, Charles Carpenter, Keith Edmiston, Stanley Barnett, Alan Waller and Casey Daganhardt -- have reopened the office at 118 Parliament Dr., Maryville 37804. Donations of law books, especially the Tennessee Practice Series, and other resources like Raybin on Criminal Procedure or Garrett on Divorce, are needed. Contact Billy Gribble at blountlaw@yahoo.com or 865-936-3060 if you can help. Members of the firm say they have already received much support, which they appreciate very much. They are still actively handling cases and will be working over the next few weeks to reconstruct client files.

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Judge Orders Legal Fees in Shackling Case

U.S. District Judge William Haynes Jr. issued an order today demanding that the Nashville government pay $1.1 million in fees and other expenses to Juana Villegas, who, in 2008, was shackled to a hospital bed hours before giving birth. Last August, a jury awarded Villegas $200,000 for having her rights violated. Metro government appealed the award and there is a hearing on the case next month. The order today is limited to legal fees and expenses. Haynes also certified Villegas' application for a special visa created to protect undocumented residents who are crime victims. The Tennessean has more.

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MTSU Announces Federal Court Reporting Program

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) announced a new project in collaboration with the Tennessean in which students will report on the federal judicial system and federal law enforcement operations in Nashville. Named after journalism icon and former Tennessean CEO John Seigenthaler, the Seigenthaler News Service selected seven seniors as the first program scholars. Read the full story at the Daily News Journal.

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Horse Trainer Gets 3 Years Probation, Fine

Former hall of fame horse trainer Jackie McConnell was sentenced to three years probation and fined $75.000 this afternoon in a Chattanooga federal courtroom, The Tennessean reports. McConnell, who was recorded beating Tennessee walking horses in a video released by the Humane Society last May, could have been given as much as five years probation and fined up to $250,000 for his offenses. As part of his plea agreement, McConnell has to report all of his dealings with horses in federal court.

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Overcrowding Resolved at Washington County Jail

Washington County Attorney John Rambo says he expects the state to recertify the Washington County Detention Center after the jail rectified its overcrowding issue by transferring 86 inmates to state correctional facilities. Learn more in the Johnson City Press

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West Memphis Murder Documentary Premieres Tonight

Free, advanced screenings of Peter Jackson’s documentary “West of Memphis” begin tonight in Memphis and will continue over the next several weeks throughout the Memphis area and Arkansas. The documentary covers the well-publicized case of the "West Memphis Three" who were released in 2011 after being wrongly imprisoned for murder for almost 20 years. The documentary is set for national release on Dec. 25. Read more in the Commercial Appeal.

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DA’s Office Evacuated After Suspicious Letter Found

The downtown office of Nashville District Attorney General Torry Johnson was evacuated yesterday, The Tennessean reports, after a suspicious package was delivered. Spokeswoman Susan Niland said the office received a threatening letter that included white powder in the envelope. Law enforcement evacuated the office and closed part of Second Avenue near the county courthouse. Keith Moses, with the FBI’s Nashville office, said the package was taken to a state laboratory for analysis.

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Baumgartner Loses Evidence Motion

U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Shirley has ruled that former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner will not get access to a list of evidence that prosecutors intend to use at trial. Baumgartner is facing federal charges he covered up a pill distribution conspiracy. While documents and materials that could be used at trial have been turned over, Shirley found that the prosecutors are not required to pinpoint exactly what materials they will use or to outline their trial strategy. Read more in the News Sentinel

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Blackwood Says He Has Not Lost Objectivity

In an order made public today, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood wrote that he has not lost his objectivity and will not step down in presiding over the torture slayings of a Knox County couple. "The court concludes that a person of ordinary prudence in the court's position, knowing all the facts known to the judge, would not find a reasonable basis for questioning the judge's impartiality," Blackwood wrote. The Knox County District Attorney General's pushed Blackwood to recuse himself from the cases of three of four defendants in the January 2007 slayings. The News Sentinel reports

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Court Clerk Suspended After Confrontation With City Manager

East Ridge city manager Tim Gobble publicly confronted a court clerk in her office because he was upset over the handling of an armed robbery case in which his daughter was the victim, Chattanoogan.com reports. Gobble, who suspended Court Clerk Joanne Thomas for five days without pay, said "it is well established that the city manager is over the court clerk's office and not the judge. ... I'm going to get it fixed."

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