News

Conviction Upheld on Threatening YouTube Video

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit on Monday upheld the conviction of Franklin Delano Jeffries II for transmitting an interstate threat. He appeared in a YouTube video singing a menacing song about Knox County Chancellor Michael Moyers, who was handling Jeffries child custody case at the time. The Jackson Sun has more

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Prosecutors: Baumgartner Distributing Drugs, Too

Assistant U.S. attorneys Zachary Bolitho and David Lewen allege that former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner lied not only to cover up his mistress' misdeeds but to protect a network of drug pushers, of which he was a part, the News Sentinel reports. Defense attorney Donald A. Bosch said the claims presented at a hearing yesterday in U.S. District Court were outrageous.

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Robertson Judge Recuses Self in Sexual-Abuse Custody Case

Robertson County Circuit Judge Ross Hicks recused himself today in a matter involving a mother who defied his court order, going on the run with her son instead of turning him over into the custody of his father, who she believed was sexually abusing the boy. At the time, an 11-person state investigative team had decided that William Cone, the boys' father, was doing just that but in Hicks' court, Georgia Dunn lost primary custody. Cone was arrested and charged with rape of a child last week, and now Dunn has surrendered to police. Tomorrow she will be back in court to determine whether the felony she is charged with will stand. WSMV reports

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Defense Attorneys Look for Compromise in Logjam

Chattanooga defense attorneys were granted several days to work out a compromise in the conflict that has caused a logjam in Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman's courtroom. Public Defender Ardena Garth has sought to have Judge Steelman recuse himself from 150 cases of indigent defendants, saying he has been "venomous" toward her office and is biased against her and her staff. Members of the local chapter of the Tennessee Criminal Defense Attorneys Association offered to look for middle ground in the conflict and hope to have a proposal in the next couple of days, the Chattanoogan.com website reports.

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Challenger Announces 2014 Run for Brown's Seat

A Johnson City assistant district attorney general, Dennis Brooks, has announced he will seek the Criminal Court, Part II, judgeship in 2014. It is the seat held since 1988 by Judge Lynn Brown. Brooks said he is starting his campaign so early because he has little money to advertise and a lot of work to do getting his name known to approximately 30,000 active voters in the four counties. His printed campaign materials say Brown is "mishandling the job." Johnson City Press has more

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3 Make Short List for 30th District Vacancy

Three candidates were chosen today for the 30th Judicial District Criminal Court vacancy when the Judicial Nominating Commission met in Memphis. They are:

• John W. Campbell, deputy district attorney general, 30th Judicial District;
• Dean Thomas DeCandia, special assistant U.S. attorney, Western District of Tennessee; and
• Lawrence J. Laurenzi, federal prosecutor, Western District of Tennessee.

The vacancy was created by the appointment of Criminal Court Judge John T. Fowlkes Jr. as U.S. District Court judge for Western Tennessee. The list of three candidates, who are all of Memphis, now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam for a decision. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more

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Federal Suit Filed Against McMinn County

Gussie Vann, a McMinn County man serving time for the rape of his 13-year-old niece, has filed suit against the county claiming that he was held for 48 hours without probable cause and held for 10 months without being allowed to see an attorney in relation to separate charges of murder and incest of his daughter. Those charges ultimately were dismissed by now District Attorney Steve Bebb, who was serving as a judge at the time. Vann was later convicted on the rape charges by a jury. Vann’s lawyer said both Bebb and the prosecutor in the case likely would be immune from civil suit while acting in their official capacity, but that the county could be held liable. The Times Free Press has more

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Justices Let Lethal Injection Ruling Stand

The Tennessee Supreme Court has decided not to hear an appeal by two death row inmates who claim that changes to the state's lethal injection procedure are unconstitutional. The high court on Monday declined to hear the case brought by Stephen Michael West and Billy Ray Irick. Their attorneys argued that the state's protocol does not contain sufficient safeguards to ensure that condemned inmates don't suffocate while fully conscious, which could violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. WATE.com has this AP story.

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Cases Backing Up With 50+ Recusal Requests from PD

Claiming that Judge Barry Steelman is biased against her office, Public Defender Ardena Garth filed more motions today asking the judge to recuse himself from cases in which her office is involved. So far, she has filed for recusals in more than 50 cases, beginning last week. Cases are backing up in Steelman's division of Hamilton County Criminal Court, the Chattanoogan reports.

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Blackwood Says He Will Stay on Case for Retrials

Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood today refused to step aside in the criminal cases involving Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Assistant District Attorney General Leland Price argued that Blackwood's disgust with the misdeeds of disgraced former Judge Richard Baumgartner, who presided over the trials of the torture slaying defendants, had caused him to lose objectively in the case.

John Ford Released from Prison

Former Tennessee State Senator John Ford, 70, was released from a federal prison in Mississippi today. Ford, who has been behind bars since 2007, is now at a half-way house in Memphis, NewsChannel 3 reports. He was convicted for his role in undercover investigation called Operation Tennessee Waltz. He was serving 19-and-a-half years following separate corruption convictions in Memphis and Nashville, but an appeals court threw out the Nashville conviction, which shaved several years off his sentence.

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Life Sentences for Juveniles Under Scrutiny

On Thursday, the California Assembly passed a bill that would give "juvenile lifers" -- those who killed as juveniles and are serving life in prison without parole -- in that state a shot at freedom. Nationwide, there are roughly 2,500 inmates who fit into this category. "Because their brain is still developing, they have the ability to rehabilitate," said Michael Harris, a senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law. Despite the legal rulings and the legislative activity, some survivors of people killed by juveniles are pushing back and arguing that a life sentence is appropriate punishment for juveniles who commit heinous murders. NewsChannel 5 has this AP story

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A Year of Freedom for the West Memphis 3

It has been one year since the "West Memphis 3" reached a plea deal that allowed them to go free and keep proclaiming their innocence of the gruesome 1993 murders of three young boys. They spent nearly two decades in jail. Today, one of them is about to go on a tour with his book, "Life After Death." Another has spent time on the set of "Devil's Knot," an upcoming movie about the case starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth. The third is living a quiet life in the trailer park where he grew up near West Memphis. They are all getting used to how different life is from when they were last free. "My greatest piece of technology as a 16-year-old kid was my Super Nintendo," said Jason Baldwin, who was 16 when he was arrested. "Now I've got this thing called the iPhone." The Commercial Appeal reports

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Reception Honoring General Phillips Set

Members of the bar and the public are invited to a retirement reception honoring William Paul Phillips, district attorney general for the Eighth Judicial District, Aug. 30 at 3 p.m. The event is set for the White Rock Baptist Church, 2745 Howard Baker Highway in Huntsville. Phillips’ staff is hosting the event, and encourages all "to come say farewell and thank you" for his service to the citizens of Fentress, Scott, Campbell, Claiborne and Union counties over the past 33 years.

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PD Requests Blanket Recusal from Judge

Hamilton County Public Defender Ardena Garth has asked Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman to recuse himself or reassign her office's cases to another judge. That followed a Tuesday hearing in which a public defender said the judge was biased against her and other public defenders. Garth filed recusal motions for 11 cases scheduled in Steelman's courtroom Wednesday, the day after the hearing. Transcripts of Tuesday's hearing are being prepared to determine exactly what was said, according to court records. The hearing was continued to Aug. 27 and the recusal/reassignment motions will be addressed that day, after the hearing. Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts spokeswoman Casey Mahoney said Thursday that staff could not recall a recent situation in which a public defender's office sought blanket recusal of a judge on multiple cases. The Times Free Press has more

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Former Prosecutor Challenges Indictment

If former Hawkins County prosecutor Doug Godbee persists with a motion to dismiss his felony official misconduct charge, he may find himself facing nine felony charges instead of one, reports the Kingsport Times News. Godbee has been accused by nine women of requesting, and in some cases receiving, sex in exchange for leniency in drug cases he was prosecuting. He is challenging the indictment on grounds that it violates a 1993 Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that multiple accusations should not be included in one indictment. The prosecutor in the case is a bit baffled by that argument though. “He’s asking us to split them up and charge them individually... If the judge dismisses…we’ll just re-indict on all potential charges.”

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Paper Questions Spending by DA’s Office

The Chattanooga Times Free Press yesterday laid out its case against 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb for misusing funds and property acquired through the district’s Drug Task Force. The paper says Bebb has been driving a car seized by the task force though state law that does not allow such use; that he has collected nearly $3,000 in reimbursements for gas, maintenance, and wear and tear on the car; and has used drug task force funds for office parties and meetings.

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Bragg to Preside in Rutherford Drug Court

Judge David Bragg will become the new presiding judge for the Rutherford County Drug Court and DUI Court Programs beginning Sept. 6. Bragg has often been a substitute in the programs for Judge Don Ash, who has taken senior status, the Cannon County Courier reports.

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Man Sues County After Death Sentence Set Aside

A McMinn County man who was on death row for 19 years and scheduled to die in the electric chair on five dates before being granted a new trial, has filed a $20 million lawsuit against McMinn County government. Senior Judge Donald Harris in 2009 set aside Gussie Willie Vann's conviction and death penalty sentence based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The Chattanoogan has more

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Shelby Juvenile Defense to Move to PD's Office

Shelby County Juvenile Court defense operations will be transferred to the Public Defender's Office in response to a federal investigation that found juvenile court "discriminates against black children," WMC-TV reports. Court officials say they will move the juvenile defense system from Juvenile Court oversight and place it under the office in charge of defending adults. Chief Public Defender Stephen Bush will head up the attorneys handling cases ranging from vandalism and minor theft to aggravated assault and murder, said Bill Powell, the county's criminal justice coordinator. The public defender's office in Memphis hasn't held that role in 35 years, Bush said. The Commercial Appeal has more

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Car Death Charges Often Different Based on Income, Gender

The Tennessean looks at two recent cases of where children died after their mothers left them in hot cars. Beneath the obvious common elements, the unrelated cases showed signs of heading down divergent paths. A law professor at Wake Forest University who analyzes deaths of children in hot cars and the resulting prosecutions found that mothers face charges more often than fathers, nonfamily caregivers more often than parents, and low-income parents more often than high-income ones. And when charges are brought, more than 80 percent of those cases end in conviction.

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Attorney: Baumgartner Gave Judicial Diversion 'A Bad Name'

A Knox County commissioner is seeking judicial diversion from a misdemeanor indecent exposure charge after authorities allege he was caught in a sexual encounter in a public park. The charge against Jeff Ownby is a minor one, calling for a $50 fine. But his attorney Gregory P. Isaacs is pulling out the stops to avoid any blemish on the record of Ownby, a married father and foster father who represents the 4th District as a Republican. Isaacs maintains that Ownby is a victim of the fallout over disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, who Isaacs contends has given judicial diversion a bad name and made prosecutors much too wary to grant it. The News Sentinel has the story

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Texas Executes Man with IQ of 61

Marvin Wilson, a Texas man convicted of killing a police informant two decades ago, was executed this week after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments that he was too mentally impaired to face the death penalty. Wilson’s lawyers used a 2004 test that pegged his IQ at 61, below the generally accepted minimum of 70. The Supreme Court outlawed execution of the mentally impaired in 2002, but left it to states to determine what constitutes impairment. According to the Associated Press, Texas chose to incorporate a number of factors besides IQ. The state argued that Wilson’s claim wasn't supported by other assessments. In April 2011, the Tennessee Supreme Court set new standards for defendants in this state.

In related news, the American Bar Association last week filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing that capital defendants should be entitled to stays in habeas proceedings if they are not competent to aid their lawyers. Read more about that in the ABA Journal

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ROBERT E. BOSTICK v. STATE OF TENNESSEE

Petitioner, Robert E. Bostick, was indicted by the Hamilton County Grand Jury for first degree murder, aggravated burglary, attempted aggravated burglary, Class E felony theft, and Class E felony vandalism. Pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, Petitioner pled guilty to second degree murder, a lesser included offense of first degree murder and received an agreed sentence of 20 years at 100%. All other charges were dismissed pursuant to the plea agreement.

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Attorney 1: 

Kevin L. Loper, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for appellant, Robert E. Bostick.

Attorney 2: 

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Renee W. Turner, Assistant Attorney General; William H. Cox, III, District Attorney General; and William Hall, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: 
WOODALL

Carter Sworn in as New DA

Robert Carter was sworn in as the new district attorney general for the 17th Judicial District during ceremonies last week at the Lincoln County Courthouse. The oath of office was administered by Circuit Court Judge Lee Russell. Carter succeeds Charles Crawford, who had held the seat since 2006. See a photo in the Elk Valley Times.

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