News

Judge Upholds Death Sentence for Christa Pike

U.S. District Judge Sandy Mattice today upheld the conviction and death sentence of Christa Pike, who was convicted of the 1995 torture murder of a fellow Job Corps worker in Knoxville. Pike was 20 when she was sentenced to death, making her the youngest woman to be sentenced to death in the United States since the U.S. Supreme Court's Furman ruling in 1972. Mattice said he did not see “valid grounds” for the appeal to proceed, the Chattanoogan reports. Pike was also convicted in 2004 for nearly strangling a fellow inmate with a shoestring.

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Women Leaving Criminal Practice, Canadian Study Finds

A new report commissioned in Canada by the Criminal Lawyers' Association revealed that women are leaving criminal practice at a higher rate than men, CBCNews reports. The study attributes low pay, lack of financial support for maternity leave and being treated differently than male peers by judges as reasons. "We need diverse perspectives to make sure the law develops in step with social values,” said Breese Davies, vice-president of the CLA.

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State Did Not Purposefully Delay Indictment in Rape Case, ADA Says

Assistant District Attorney Abby Wallace said Thursday that a man charged nearly 14 years after an alleged rape failed to present evidence showing that the delay in testing a rape kit harmed his right to a fair trial. Wallace added Maurice Summerall must prove that the state purposely delayed his indictment. "The reason for the delay … was systematic bureaucratic indifference and incompetence,” Wallace said. Attorney Charles Mitchell last month filed a motion to dismiss the indictment against Summerall. Read more from The Commercial Appeal.

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Bill Could Help Defendants Work Off Court Costs

State lawmakers are expected to vote today on a bill that would allow Knox County judges to offer chronic offenders community service to pay off their court costs. A WBIR investigation last year found that some indigent defendants were responsible for court debts of more than $750,000. Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to sign off on the bill, which will serve as a pilot program before potentially moving into other counties. 

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Compassionate Release Program Criteria Debated

The U.S. Sentencing Commission has been tasked with developing criteria that courts and prisons will use to determine inmates eligible for the Bureau of Prisons' compassionate release program. The program allows for early release of certain inmates for "extraordinary and compelling" reasons. The Justice Department’s inspector general has criticized the program for lacking clear and consistent standards. Read more from the Associated Press.

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Nominees Sent to Haslam for Court of Criminal Appeals

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments today selected three nominees for the Court of Criminal Appeals vacancy created when Judge Roger A. Page was appointed to the state Supreme Court. The nominees, chosen from eight applicants following a public hearing today in Jackson, are J. Robert Carter Jr. of Memphis, J. Ross Dyer of Memphis and Bobby Gene Gray Jr. of Adamsville. The nominee selected by Haslam will be subject to confirmation by the General Assembly.

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All About Trials: Evidence, Tactics and Being Challenged to a Duel

Journal columns this month touch on trial-related cases and personalities. Wade Davies discusses public records as evidence in criminal cases. Russell Fowler writes about a lawyer known for sensational trial tactics, which brought him fame but eventually ruined him. Bill Haltom writes about Nashville's John Jay Hooker, who died Jan. 24. Haltom's column, “When John Jay Hooker Almost Shot Me" explores the long-time and respectful relationship -- if filled with threats of duels and law suits -- the two shared. Read the March issue.

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High Court Ruling Could Impact Career Criminals Behind Bars

Steve Cook, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, said 256 East Tennessee defendants behind bars as armed career criminals could have their sentences reduced by a recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The court in June struck down a section of the federal Armed Career Criminal Act, which boosts penalties for criminals caught with guns who already have three convictions for either serious drug offenses or certain crimes. The decision means inmates who have already served a decade will go free, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel

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Tentative Trial Date Set in Holly Bobo Murder Case

The trial date in the Holly Bobo case has been tentatively set for April 3, 2017. Judge Creed McGinley described the case as "like none other,” on Wednesday. WTVF reports it is unclear who will be tried in April; the state has filed a motion to sever the cases of Zach Adams, Dylan Adams and Jason Autry for the 2011 murder of Bobo. A new attorney was appointed to Autry after his previous attorney, John Herbison, was suspended last month from practicing law.

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Court Permits Social Media Appeal in Rape Case

A three-judge panel of the Tennessee Court of Appeals today granted an interlocutory appeal to permit access to social media accounts in the case of former Vols football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Knox County Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee earlier denied the request from attorneys in the case to subpoena digital conversations from the woman who accused Johnson and Williams of rape in 2014 and three witnesses. The court’s decision today now puts the pair's separate trials on hold.

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Metro Public Defenders Office Holds Public Q&A

Nashville Scene shares highlights from one stop on Defend Nashville’s listening tour, part of a new initiative from the Metro Nashville Public Defenders Office to make defenders a more public part of the criminal justice reform debate. The majority of the discussion held at The Temple focuses on the overwhelming caseload carried by the office. "I think where I am at right now is let’s, number one, maybe not talk about asking for public defenders right now, but let’s see if there’s any way that we can not bring those individuals into the criminal justice system," said Dawn Deaner, Metro Nashville public defender. 

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Rutherford Mayor Proposes County-Run Probation Company

Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess said he wants the county to supervise its own probation company, WSMV reports. The announcement comes after the county recently ended its relationship with Providence Community Corrections, a company accused of running an extortion scheme. PCC and the county are named in a federal lawsuit as a result of the allegations. 

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Defend Nashville: Public Defender Launches New Campaign

“Public defenders toil with short staffs and shoestring budgets to uphold that last bit in your Miranda rights.” That's one of the messages from the Metro Nashville Public Defenders office, which launched a new campaign – Defend Nashville – to make its defenders a more prominent part of the judicial-reform debate. The Nashville Scene profiles the initiative, which includes Public Defender Dawn Deaner and her colleagues addressing crowds to share “about a city that few outside the halls of the downtown courthouse ever see.” The office has also launched a court watch program that allows citizens to spend a day in court with a public defender.

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Widow of Inmate Files Suit over Rutherford County Jail Suicide

The widow of an inmate who committed suicide Jan. 30 at the Rutherford County jail has filed a lawsuit accusing the county of negligence, the Daily News Journal reports. According to the suit filed Feb. 11 in Circuit Court, Jonothan E. Maxwell was intoxicated at the time of his arrest and did not go through the “normal intake process,” which includes “being assisted by a nurse.” He committed suicide shortly after his arrest. 

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Rutherford County Seeks to Solve Probation Company Problem

Rutherford County is seeking a new way to run its court probation program before its relationship with Pathways Community Corrections ends March 31, WSMV reports. County Mayor Ernest Burgess says choices include soliciting bids from the other private probation companies or starting its own probation program. PCC, which is currently under investigation by the Tennessee Department of Commerce, is closing April 1. The company is named in a federal lawsuit that claims the company and Rutherford County profited by keeping people on probation for extra time and charged excessive fees.

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Editorial: Haslam's Anti-Crime Plan to Reduce Recidivism

An editorial in The Commercial Appeal supports Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2016-2018 Public Safety Action Plan, which supports tougher penalties against serial domestic-violence offenders. The editorial says that the plan also offers a “common sense” approach for altered sanctions for parole and probation violators that would help reduce the state’s 48 percent recidivism rate.

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After Two Trials, Men Found Not Guilty of Antioch Murder

Two men – accused of a 2012 killing of a man in an Antioch drug house – are now free following two jury trials. Jurors last week determined there was not enough physical evidence to connect Terrance D. Brown and Terrence J. Clark to the crime. A trial last June resulted in a hung jury. Read more from The Tennessean.

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Brentwood Toddler Rape Case Moving Forward

Kathryn Barnett, attorney for the family of a 3-year old rape victim, said she is moving forward with discovery in the case following a judge's decision last week not to strike "offensive" allegations from the lawsuit. The alleged incident took place at Brentwood's Fellowship Baptist Church in 2014 while the toddler’s parents were attending a service. Barnett said the church failed to respond to discovery requests submitted Nov. 30 and she will now gather depositions from the church's leadership. In the suit, the parents say the church urged them not to pursue criminal charges and did not contact them about the incident until nearly a year after it occurred. The trial is planned for April 2017, Brentwood Home Page reports

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Judge Sends Ooltewah Case to Grand Jury

Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw today sent cases against two Ooltewah High basketball coaches and the athletic director to the Grand Jury after determining there was evidence to proceed on charges of not reporting child abuse. The men were charged after an alleged assault of an Ooletwah freshman during a basketball tournament. Philyaw said three other team members were victims as well. The three men will have to be booked at the County Jail within 30 days, The Chattanoogan reports. The three teens charged in the assault will appear in court next month.

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Attorney Asks for Dismissal, Cites Delay in Rape Kit Testing

After Maurice Summerall was indicted for rape nearly 14 years after the incident, his attorney Charles Mitchell argues a delay in testing the rape kit has harmed Summerall’s ability to defend himself at trial. This week Mitchell filed a motion asking for the dismissal of the charge because of the delay. The Commercial Appeal reports Memphis police did not send the rape kit to a forensic center for testing for more than 12 years. Memphis has more than 12,000 untested sexual assault kits that have accumulated since the 1980s.

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Man Convicted After Firing Shots at Memphis Police

Misael Chica-Arguenta was convicted yesterday of three counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter, but acquitted of seven other charges, after firing at Memphis police in 2014. The jury found him not guilty of attempting to kill two officers who were in the vehicle Chica-Arguenta fired on. Chica-Arguenta said he only intended to kill himself that night. Micah Gates, Chica-Arguenta’s attorney, argued "this was a suicide by cop.” Chica-Arguenta will be sentenced in March, The Commercial Appeal reports.

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Court Upholds Officers' Seizures in DUI Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of officers’ seizures in two cases involving motorists crossing roadway markings. The cases involved a woman crossing the “fog line” in Williamson County and a man crossing a double-yellow line in Knox County. Both defendants were charged with DUI and sought to have evidence in those cases suppressed, claiming the officers’ basis for pulling them over was a violation of their constitutional rights prohibiting unlawful seizure. Read the unanimous opinions in State v. Linzey Danielle Smith and State v. William Whitlow Davis, Jr., both authored by Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins.

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Appeals Court Upholds Mississippi's Execution Method

The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Wednesday upheld Mississippi’s method of lethal injection, striking down arguments from death row prisoners who claimed the state’s drugs were not specifically approved by state law. The inmates argued that they “faced risk of excruciating pain and torture during an execution because they might remain conscious” after midazolam, a new drug recommended by the state, was administered. The judge said inmates will have to take up their issues with the method in state court. Read more from the Associated Press.

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'Jane Does' File Sexual Assault Suit Against UT

Six women today filed a federal lawsuit claiming the University of Tennessee has created a student culture that enables sexual assaults by student-athletes, The Tennessean reports. The lawsuit, filed by plaintiffs identified only as "Jane Does," says the university uses an adjudication process that is “biased against victims" and also accuses five school athletes of sexual assault. “Athletes knew in advance that UT would support them even after a complaint of sexual assault (and) arrange for top quality legal representation”, plaintiffs say in the lawsuit.

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Attorney Says Judge's Fee is Unconstitutional

Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton yesterday dismissed charges against a Campbell County woman who had not been able to get her name cleared because of a controversial fee policy enacted by Campbell County General Sessions Court Judge Amanda Sammons, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Eighth Judicial District Assistant Public Defender William C. Jones argued that Sammons had no right to make an innocent woman pay a $50 public defender fee when she did not use the office’s services. "By denying the state's motion to dismiss, (Sammons) has continued a prosecution of a citizen for crimes she did not commit, knowing she didn't commit them, solely for the purpose of leverage in collecting a civil debt," Jones said.

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