News

Inmate Seeks to Challenge Alabama's Execution Method

Alabama death-row inmate Tommy Arthur says she wants a chance to argue in court that the procedure the state plans to use this month to execute her may be unconstitutional. In 2011, the state changed the first of three drugs administered during lethal injections, substituting pentobarbital when supplies for sodium thiopental ran low. Arthur and her lawyer argue that the change could result in cruel and unusual punishment, and should be significant enough to trigger an appeal. WKRN News 2 Nashville has the story.

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Blackwood: No Authority to Open TBI Files

Special Judge John Kerry Blackwood said at a specially-called hearing in Knox County Criminal Court that he has no authority to make public the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's file on former judge Richard Baumgartner. Blackwood said the portions of the file not made public contain phone records and recorded conversations in which Baumgartner discusses sex with two women and makes "crude remarks" about people. "What you're not going to find (in the TBI file) is a great big conspiracy among officials to protect Richard Baumgartner," he said. The News Sentinel reports.

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Former Public Defender Joins AG's Office

Colin Johnson, a long-time attorney from Dresden, has joined the staff of the 27th Judicial District Attorney General’s office as a full-time assistant district attorney general. Johnson, a graduate of Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at Memphis State University, had served as the 27th Judicial District’s assistant public defender since 1998. NorthWest Tennessee Today has more.

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Court Changes Rules for Convictions of Multiple Crimes

In three unanimous decisions issued today, the Tennessee Supreme Court significantly changed the tests and procedures for determining when multiple convictions are permissible under the state and federal constitutions. State v. Watkins and State v. Cross confronted the issue of whether multiple convictions under different statutes violate the state constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. In State v. White, the court announced changes in cases involving charges of kidnapping and an accompanying felony. The court concluded that a separate due process test is no longer necessary for determining whether convictions for kidnapping and an accompanying felony may be upheld. In today’s decision, the court set out temporary jury instructions and invited the Tennessee Pattern Jury Instruction Committee to develop permanent guidelines for future cases. The court also pointed out that its decision does not create a new rule of constitutional law and, therefore, does not require retroactive application. Learn more from the Administrative Office of the Courts.

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Court: Inmate Can’t Change Court-Appointed Lawyer

The Supreme Court says a California death row inmate can't change his court-appointed appeals lawyer because he didn't like the lawyer's defense tactics. The justices on Monday turned away the appeal from Kenneth Clair, who was sentenced to death in 1987 for burglary and murder. Clair wanted to change his federal public defender in 2005 because he says they were trying to stop his execution instead of trying to prove his innocence. TriCities. com has the Associated Press story.

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Requests to Expunge Criminal Records on the Rise

Tennessee has reported a 71 percent jump since 2007 in the number of people filing to have charges expunged. Davidson County has seen cases more than double in that same time frame. Officials say this rise is related to the economy -- as jobs become scarcer and employers are able to be pickier, people want their records cleaned up to help them in the job market. The Tennessean reports.

Court Stops New Trials for Baumgartner-decided Cases

The Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a stay of new trials ordered for three of the four defendants in the January 2007 torture slayings of a Knox County couple and an unrelated attempted murder case. Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood late last year ruled the trials of the defendants in the slayings were constitutionally flawed because of the misdeeds of former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner. The reprieve, however, is temporary, designed to allow the respective defense teams time to respond to the state Attorney General's Office request for permission to appeal orders granting the new trials. Read more in the News Sentinel.

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Attorney General's Office Asks Court to Hold Off on New Trials

The Tennessee Attorney General's Office confirmed Friday it will ask the state Court of Criminal Appeals to put on hold new trials already awarded in the wake of revelations of former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner's actions. The News Sentinel has details.

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Editorial: Take the Deal, Unseal TBI File

In an editorial, the News Sentinel praises a recent deal struck between Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols and defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs saying that it could help with the fallout from Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner's drug abuse. The paper encourages Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood to unseal the full Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file into the ex-judge's misdeeds. Read the editorial.

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Study: Federal Sentences Vary Widely

A new study by the Associated Press shows that federal judges are handing out widely disparate sentences for similar crimes, 30 years after Congress tried to create more uniform outcomes with the Sentencing Reform Act. The law set up a commission that wrote guidelines for judges to follow as they punished convicts, with similar sentences for offenders with comparable criminal histories convicted of the same crimes. But the law's requirement that judges stick to these sentencing guidelines was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2005. TriCities.com has the AP story.

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Judge Chooses Where Jury Pool Will Come From For Retrial

Although he's keeping them secret, Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has already picked the locations from which juries will be selected to try for a second time the defendants in the slayings of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. The state Attorney General's Office is considering asking the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to put on hold retrials in the case to allow the office to appeal Blackwood's decision that the four defendants were denied constitutionally sound trials because of former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner's crimes while presiding over their original trials. The first retrial, of LeMarcus Davidson, is set for April 16. The News Sentinel reports.

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Knox DA to Allow Access to Baumgartner File

Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols this week agreed to release the entire TBI file on former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner to any attorney challenging a clients' conviction or sentencing imposed in trials presided over by Baumgartner. The move marks a reversal from an earlier decision not to release the file and not to stipulate it as unchallenged evidence. All eyes now fall on Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who will ultimately decide whether the TBI file should be made public. Learn more in the News Sentinel

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Anonymous Reward Offered for West Memphis 3 Killer

A new, $100,000 reward is on the table for anyone with information to help exonerate the West Memphis Three, WMC-TV reports. The three men convicted for three brutal murders that happened nearly 20 years ago are hoping the reward, from an anonymous source, brings the real killer to justice. Jessie Misskelley Jr., Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols struck a deal last year that released them from prison but only after pleading guilty to the murders. They have maintained their innocence. Read more from the Memphis Business Journal

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Security Tight in Third Week of Federal Memphis Trial

The third week of testimony began today in the trial of two cousins in Memphis who are charged with drug trafficking, murder and money laundering. Because they are also charged with racketeering under a federal law designed to decimate the Mafia, much testimony has focused on crimes of the organization as a whole, not just on the alleged roles of the cousins. Security for the trial has been heightened, with court officials shielding jurors' identities and manning extra checkpoints. Armed U.S. Marshals pick jurors up daily from a secret location and escort them to and from the Memphis courthouse. Follow it in the Commercial Appeal.

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Supreme Court Grants Review to Six Cases

Five cases granted review by the Tennessee Supreme Court this week involve criminal issues, including two Fourth Amendment cases, a statute of limitations question, a technical application of certified questions, and a case involving improper juror communication. One civil case involves termination of parental rights. The Raybin-Perky Hot List reviews them.

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Editorial: Haslam Plan is ‘Sensible’

An editorial in the Times Free Press endorses the “sensible plans” proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam to stem the state’s troubling issues of violent crime and the use of illegal drugs. Read the editorial.

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STATE OF TENNESSEE v. ALMA CISNEROS CHILDERS

The defendant, Alma Cisneros Childers, appeals the sentence of incarceration she received following the revocation of her probation by the Lincoln County Circuit Court. She pled guilty to violating the terms and conditions of her probation but now contends that she should have been given a community corrections sentence rather than one of incarceration. After review, we conclude that the defendant has not shown that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering the revocation or in imposing a sentence of incarceration. Therefore, the judgments of the trial court are affirmed.

Attorney 1: 

Donna Orr Hargrove, District Public Defender, and Andrew Jackson Dearing, Assistant
Public Defender, for the appellant, Alma Cisneros Childers.

Attorney 2: 

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Clarence E. Lutz, Assistant Attorney
General; Charles Frank Crawford, Jr., District Attorney General; and Hollynn Eubanks,
Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: 
WILLIAMS