News

Judge Seals All Vandy Rape Trial Evidence

A Nashville criminal court judge has sealed all evidence presented in the trial of two former Vanderbilt University football players, a move that open records advocates say is unprecedented in Nashville courts, the Tennessean reports. It is the third ruling in the case prohibiting increasingly more information from public disclosure. The newest order says it is “reasonable and appropriate” to seal all evidence that was presented at trial. The Tennessee Press Association objected to the move saying it was “dangerous” for such a decision to be made without a public hearing on whether the extra protection is needed.

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Defense to Ask for Mistrial in Vandy Rape Case

Fletcher Long, an attorney for one of the former Vanderbilt University football players convicted of raping an unconscious student, says he will ask that a mistrial be declared after learning that a jury member was a rape victim. Long says the individual was asked during jury selection about past experience with the criminal justice system as either a victim or defendant. In failing to disclose the rape, Long says, the juror lied to the court. The juror’s attorney says her client did not make misrepresentations and that the individual's past had “no impact whatsoever” on decision-making in the case. News Channel 5 has the Associated Press story.

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DA Pushes Bill Allowing Jurors to See Photos of Murder Victims

The Rutherford County District Attorney’s Office is pushing for legislation that would allow photos of murder victims to be shown at trial, the Murfreesboro Post reports. Under state law, it is difficult to introduce a picture of a murder victim while alive as the case is being tried, Assistant District Attorney J. Paul Newman says. His office contends that being able to show a photo helps identify the victim and helps a jury understand this was a real person. State Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, sponsored legislation last session to change the law. He said he plans to revive it this session or find another legislator to handle it.

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Sealed Rape Trial Tapes Aired by 20/20

Friday’s episode of the network news magazine show 20/20 aired sealed surveillance video and interrogation tapes from the Vanderbilt rape case, WSMV-TV reports. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk responded to the coverage saying, “Neither the District Attorney’s office nor the police department has ever released any video from this case to any media outlet.” Funk also said release of the material may be a violation of the court’s protective order and the matter will need to be addressed before Judge Monte Watkins, who presided over the recent trial of two former university football players. Two defense lawyers, John Herbison and Worrick Robinson, also denied leaking the videos.

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Gun, iPad Missing from Judge’s Office

A secretary for Judge Robert Holloway says a handgun and iPad were stolen from her desk last week, the Columbia Daily Herald reports. According to a Columbia Police Department report, the theft occurred between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. An Apple iPad Air, valued at $600, was reported missing from the top of her desk, while a Smith and Wesson .38 handgun was missing from inside the desk. No signs of forced entry were visible. An investigation is ongoing.

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New ADAs Sworn In for 4th Judicial District

Brad Jones and Mark Strange were sworn in Tuesday in Cocke County as Assistant District Attorneys for the Fourth Judicial District by Circuit Court Judge Ben W. Hooper II. They both were appointed by the Fourth Judicial District Attorney General James B. Dunn to serve Sevier, Cocke, Jefferson and Grainger counties. The Citizen Tribune has more.

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2 Fired, 1 Position Created in Criminal Court Clerk’s Office

Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond cut two positions and created a new one this week, laying off two longtime supervisors in the Fourth Circuit Court. The changes are expected to save the clerk’s office more than $157,000 in salary expenses. The staff reductions had nothing to do with the employees’ performance but are part of an ongoing reorganization, Hammond told Knoxnews.  He had earlier released six other employees from the office.

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Group to Examine Tennessee Sentencing Law, Recidivism

A task force formed by Gov. Bill Haslam met today in Nashville to examine Tennessee's sentencing structure and examine ways to reduce the state's high recidivism rate. It's the group's third meeting since being formed by Haslam last year in an overall effort to reduce crime and improve public safety. The Task Force will develop recommendations to give to the Governor's Public Safety Subcabinet by June. News Channel 9 has more.

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Supreme Court Stays Oklahoma Execution

In a one-sentence order, the Supreme Court yesterday granted a stay of execution to three inmates who had challenged Oklahoma's use of the drug midazolam as a part of its lethal injection protocol, WCYB reports. The inmates, all convicted murderers, contend that Oklahoma’s planned use of midazolam could violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishments. The sedative failed in the state’s bungled execution last April of Clayton Lockett, who awoke and apparently writhed in pain before dying of a heart attack 43 minutes after being injected. Arguments are scheduled for April 29, with a decision expected before July, the Wall Street Journal reports.

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Future Uncertain for First Judicial District Drug Task Force

The future of the Drug Task Force (DTF) for the First Judicial District hangs in the balance, as three officers, covering four counties, will soon become just two. District Attorney Tony Clark told WJHL that at one time there were as many as 12 DFT officers covering Washington, Unicoi, Carter and Johnson counties. Now, Johnson City is preparing to pull its DTF officer, Mike Adams, who is also the current director. "It's very difficult to keep a DTF going without the manpower that you need to do it," Clark said. “And three or four agents, while they're working and they're making cases, is just not enough when you're talking about working in an rea that is as large as we have in this entire district.

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Rape Kit Testing Leading to Indictments in Memphis

Officials say nearly 5,000 of 12,000 backlogged rape evidence kits have been tested in Memphis, leading to dozens of indictments, Memphis Daily News reports. Mayor A C Wharton Jr.'s office says investigations have resulted in 52 indictments of known individuals or their DNA profiles. From those indictments, 19 alleged rapists have been identified, including 14 believed to be multi-case offenders. Experts say Memphis has one of the nation's largest known backlogs of rape kits. Rape victims have filed a lawsuit over the untested kits.

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Former Vandy Football Players Found Guilty on All Counts

It only took jurors a few hours to find two former Vanderbilt University football players charged with raping an unconscious woman guilty on all counts. Jurors began deliberating the case this afternoon and reached the verdict around 5 p.m. Central. The day began with additional closing arguments during which defense lawyer Fletcher Long argued the prosecution had no proof that his client, Brandon Vandenburg, had inappropriately touched the woman. Prosecutors provided a 46-minute rebuttal, urging jurors to rely on videos from the night in question and not be swayed by testimony shifting blame to others or the college itself. Vandenburg and Cory Batey will face sentencing on March 6. Two other players implicated in the case are still awaiting trial. The Tennessean has details.

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Robertson County Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Sex Crimes

Robertson County attorney Edward Farmer of Springfield has pleaded guilty to sex crimes against minors in a bid to avoid jail time, though he continues to maintain his innocence. “I… deny any participation in the alleged acts,” Farmer wrote. “However, I do believe that it is in my best interest to enter into the plea agreement negotiated on my behalf by my attorneys.” Under the deal, Farmer pleaded guilty to one count of facilitation of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of attempted tampering with evidence. He will serve six years of supervised probation, must register as a sex offender and surrender his law license, according to the Tennessean.

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Closing Arguments Begin in Vandy Rape Trial

Closing arguments in the trial of two former Vanderbilt football players charged with rape began today and will continue tomorrow morning, the Tennessean reports. Assistant District Attorney Jan Norman delivered a 36-minute argument for the state followed by a nearly hour-long argument by Worrick Robinson, an attorney for Cory Batey. Robinson argued that the school’s culture of promiscuity and partying was to blame for his client’s actions. Attorneys for Brandon Vandenburg will deliver their closing arguments tomorrow. Court watchers expect jurors to begin deliberating by the end of the day.

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TBI Confirms Vote-Buying Probe in Monroe County

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) has confirmed it is probing allegations of vote buying in last August’s Monroe County sheriff’s election, Knoxnews reports. The admission comes after two former sheriff’s employees filed a discrimination lawsuit against Randy White, who they say fired them after he prevailed over incumbent Bill Bivens. The pair claims they were fired because of their allegiance to Bivens and for bringing a vote-buying scheme to the TBI’s attention. The sheriff’s election has been controversial from the start: White beat Bivens by just 700 votes. Bivens then sued, challenging White’s credentials to hold the seat. A special judge later ruled White did not have the experience to meet the requirements for the office and he was removed.

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Tullahoma City Attorney Stepping Down

After six years as Tullahoma city attorney, Randall Morrison has decided to step down and refocus his attention on building his private law practice. He recently added William Lockhart as a new partner to his firm and will be changing the firm’s name to Morrison & Lockhart, Tullahoma News reports. Morrison will continue to handle divorce and child custody cases but with the addition of Lockhart, the firm’s focus will expand to include criminal law, workers' compensation cases and personal injury cases.

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DOJ’s Public Integrity Chief May Be Heading to Nashville

According to Nashville Post sources, the head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section is coming to Nashville. Jack Smith, who has led the section since 2010, reportedly will become the second in charge in the U.S. Attorney’s office here. An official announcement is expected later this week. During Smith’s tenure in office, the section prosecuted former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and New York Congressman Michael Grimm. But it came under fire for its handling of cases against John Edwards and Ted Stevens.

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Supreme Court to Hear Lethal Injection Drug Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case challenging the use of the sedative midazolam in executions by lethal injection, the Associated Press reports. The case, brought by death row inmates in Oklahoma, argues that the sedative is unconstitutional because it has no pain-relieving properties and that the state “hastily” chose to use it after sodium thiopental became unavailable. The case will be the first death penalty question taken up by the high court since 2008 when it approved the use of three drugs that became the standard combination used in lethal injections. The ABA Journal has the story.

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Shelby Juvenile Court to Report on Progress

The Juvenile Court of Memphis & Shelby County will hold a public forum Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. to update residents on its progress in meeting the goals of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Memorandum of Agreement, which is designed to address issues such as the disparate treatment of black youths, the high number of youth transferred to adult court, and due process rights violations. The meeting will take place at the Memphis Public Library on Poplar Ave.

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Officials: Review of Bobo Evidence Complete

Authorities say they have completed their analysis of more than 460 pieces of evidence in the murder and kidnapping case of Holly Bobo, the Associated Press reports. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which stopped working on the case after being accused of misconduct, says it has been the most exhaustive and expensive in agency history. In related news, questions are being raised over the handling of three men who have been arrested in conjunction with the case. All have pleaded not guilty, no trial has been set and defense lawyers say they have received no evidence linking their clients to the crime. The Times News has the AP story.

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Diversion an Option Even if Crime Carries Mandatory Minimum Sentence

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that a criminal offense that provides for a mandatory minimum sentence does not necessarily prevent a defendant charged with that crime from being eligible for judicial diversion. In the specific case before it, though, the court found that diversion was not appropriate based on other factors. The AOC has more on the case.

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Bailiff, 87, Hangs Up His Uniform

Paul Long, who served as the Greene County Court bailiff since 1999, retired yesterday at a ceremony where he was recognized with a plaque of appreciation from the sheriff's department. “I gotta keep going," Long said. “I've enjoyed just being here and meeting people. I've worked with a lot of judges in the last 15 years and a lot of attorneys.” Long frequently worked in Criminal Court Judge John F. Dugger Jr.’s courtroom and provided for the needs of jurors during trials. The Greenesville Sun has the story.

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AG Restricts Policing for Profit Program

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder imposed strict new limits Friday on how federal law can be used for "policing for profit,” WJRN reports. The so-called federal "equitable sharing" program — which dates back to the 1980s — allowed local police to take cash, then use federal civil forfeiture laws to try to keep it for their agencies. In his new order, the Holder said that practice must end immediately.

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Testimony in Vanderbilt Rape Case Continues, Court to Hear Appeal Over Records

Jurors saw disturbing video in court yesterday showing one of the defendants trying to have sex with the alleged victim, who was motionless on the floor, according to testimony, WRCB reports. Testimony resumed about 90 minutes late in the rape trial of Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey after discussion by the attorneys about redacting some of the images that were the center of Monday's testimony. Additionally, the Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether news media are entitled to records related to the case. The Court of Appeals in September ruled that records sought by a statewide media coalition led by The Tennessean and including The Associated Press should not be made public because they are part of a continuing police investigation. The Greeneville Sun has more.

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Chattanooga Family Justice Center to Open This Spring

The new Family Justice Center that plans to open in Chattanooga will be located in a city-owned building in the Eastgate Center. While that building is readied, it will open this spring nearby at 5741 Cornelison Drive. Executive Director Dr. Valerie Radu said 10 agencies thus far have agreed to be involved in a coordinated operation aiding domestic violence victims at a single site. Chattanooga will be part of a statewide alliance that includes six similar centers. The Chattanoogan has more.

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