News

Drug Court Graduates Praise Judge Moreland

A controversial domestic violence case has left county officials and editorial writers calling for the resignation of Davidson County General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland. But those who have gone through the misdemeanor drug court run by Moreland say he saved their lives. "If it wasn't for the drug court program, I would not be here today," said Shane Demonbruen, a recovering drug addict. Others echoed that sentiment. Interviewed by WSMV TV, the group did not make excuses for Moreland, but asked that people wait before rushing to judgment – something they say Moreland did for each of them.

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New Reports Find Progress, Work to Do at Juvenile Court

Two new reports released this month largely praised Shelby County Juvenile Court for its continued progress in making reforms ordered by the U.S. Department of Justice, but both highlight shortcomings that need attention, the Commercial Appeal reports. The first report dealt primarily with protecting those detained from harm. Progress was noted in the areas of employee training and performance evaluations as well as availability of medical and mental health services. However, concerns were raised with the lack of adequate staffing. The second report looked at due process for detainees. It found that while compliance rates had increased, none had reached substantial compliance. The report praised the creation of a juvenile unit in the public defender’ office and improvements in administering Miranda rights. Concerns with the transfer of juveniles to adult court and defense attorney access to psychological evaluations, however, continue to be an issue for the court.

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'Justice in Motion' Proceeds Presented to Domestic Violence Shelters

First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark and Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal presented checks to two local domestic violence shelters yesterday, WJHL reports. Clark and Graybeal presented the proceeds from the April 26 Justice in Motion 5K run/walk to Safe Passage of Johnson City and CHIPS of Erwin. The checks totaled more than $5,000.

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Report: Rape Kit Backlog Not Malicious

A report compiled by former U.S. Attorney Veronica Coleman-Davis says no one maliciously or wantonly allowed for the backlog of 12,000 rape kits that sat untested for years in Memphis. Instead of placing the blame on a single individual, the report, which was released yesterday, attributed the problem to “a general and collective failure to understand the importance of DNA testing as was reflected in common practices in place locally and nationwide,” Knoxnews reports.

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First Inmates Set to Die Since Botched Oklahoma Execution

Convicted killers in three states are facing executions within a 24-hour period beginning tonight, in what could be the first lethal injections in the nation since a botched execution in Oklahoma seven weeks ago. The states planning executions -- Florida, Georgia and Missouri -- refuse to say where they get their drugs, or if they are tested, according to the Associated Press. Lawyers for two of the men have challenged the process used to obtain the drugs. Nine executions have been stayed or postponed since the Oklahoma incident. WATE has the AP story.

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Shots Fired at Murfreesboro Judge’s Home

Murfreesboro Police are on high alert after someone shot at the home of Senior Judge Don Ash, News Channel 5 reports. The shooter put nine holes into a bedroom window and two holes in the garage using a high-powered pellet gun. Fortunately Ash, who previously served as a criminal court judge in Rutherford County, and his family were not home at the time. No one was hurt. Police believe the house was deliberately targeted as no other homes in the neighborhood were attacked. Judge Ash told the paper he would not be intimidated and the incident would not affect his performance as a judge.

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DA Investigating Release of Domestic Violence Suspect

Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson is investigating the case of a domestic assault suspect who got out of jail just three hours after arrest and allegedly returned home to attack his girlfriend for a second time. At issue is how the man’s attorney was able to get a General Sessions judge to allow the suspect's release before the 12-hour "cooling-off" period allowed by law. Johnson met with General Sessions Judge Bill Higgins Friday to discuss his concerns. Higgins pledged to make changes to the 12-hour hold policy to address the issue. Contacted by the Tennessean, the judge who authorized the waiver, Casey Moreland, said he regretted taking the action.

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Court Rules on 'Straw Purchaser' Law

A divided U.S. Supreme Court sided with gun control groups and the Obama administration today, ruling that the federal ban on "straw" purchases of guns can be enforced even if the ultimate buyer is legally allowed to own a gun. The justices ruled 5-4 that the law applied to a Virginia man who bought a gun with the intention of transferring it to a relative in Pennsylvania who was not prohibited from owning firearms. The ruling settles a split among appeals courts over federal gun laws intended to prevent sham buyers from obtaining guns for the sole purpose of giving them to others, according to the Associated Press.

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20 Years Later: Photos Tell Story of O.J. Trial

It's been 20 years since famed former running back O.J. Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman were stabbed to death outside her home. What followed was what many call the "trial of the century" — Simpson was charged with the murders and America watched every twist and turn of the televised, high-profile proceedings until the day he was acquitted on Oct. 3, 1995. Two decades later, these images from the trial that became a national obsession still pack a punch. The Tennessean has the story and pictures.

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County Commissioner Arraigned on Assault Charge

Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks was in court for an arraignment Friday morning on an assault charge following allegations that she dumped water on a woman during a dispute over a parking space on Tuesday. Brooks is serving the last weeks of her second term on the commission and term limits rules prevent her from running again. She is the Democratic nominee for Juvenile Court clerk. The Commercial Appeal has more.

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iPhone Password Key to Murder Investigation

Assistant District Attorney Paul Newman is seeking a court order to obtain the password for the iPhone belonging to one of the men charged in a January double murder at a Walmart parking lot, the Murfreesboro Post reports. Murfreesboro Police turned the defendant’s iPhone over to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for processing. But, the "TBI says without a password on an iPhone, we can’t open it,” Newman said. The cell phone of Danarius Coleman is considered central to the case for several reasons. The defendant showed his girlfriend cell phone video of blood and brains in their car and glass shot out, according to her court testimony.

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Homeland Security Chief Testifies on Deportation Before Judiciary Committee

Government lawyers will review how the Obama administration releases some criminal immigrants facing deportation, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told Congress on Wednesday. WRCB reports that Johnson, the former top lawyer at the Pentagon, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that his agency's lawyers will review federal policies, which he said were based on a Supreme Court ruling, that require the government to release criminal immigrants if the U.S. can't send them to their home country within six months. Johnson said he wants to know several things, including whether the government can hold them in immigration jails as threats to national security or public safety.

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Public Safety and Advocacy Groups Partner to Review Sentencing Policies

The Governor's Public Safety Subcabinet is partnering with a national advocacy group to review Tennessee's sentencing and correction policies, WDEF reports. Officials say the partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice is aimed at improving public safety for all Tennesseans. Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield, a member of the subcabinet, led the charge in putting the partnership together. Officials say the review will build on the subcabinet's work over the last three years, including the state's public safety action plan that was introduced in January 2012.

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Group Hopes Rally, Meeting Will Improve Police Accountability

People who claim they have been harassed by Memphis police hope to revive the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board to hold officers accountable to the community, WMC-TV reports. They held a rally on Wednesday to bring attention to their concerns. Mid-South Peace and Justice Center's Paul Garner said police need to restore public confidence. "I think a lot of times the community is afraid to come forward when they do have legitimate complaints," Garner said. The organizers say they will hold a town hall style meeting on June 24 at Lewis Davis CME Church at 6 p.m. to talk about ways to make the board more effective.

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Oklahoma to Consider Execution Alternatives

An Oklahoma Republican lawmaker said Tuesday he wants to explore giving condemned prisoners the option of death by firing squad, hanging or the electric chair. State Rep. Mike Christian said he's formally requesting a legislative hearing on the state's death penalty procedures, WATE reports from the Associated Press. Five execution methods are currently legal in various places in the United States: injection, electrocution, gas, firing squad and hanging. Tennessee last month became the first state to allow use of the electric chair in some circumstances regardless of the inmate's wishes, if injection drugs are not available.

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Youth Experience Jail, Courts During 'Justice Week'

The YMCA's YCAP Program recently held its justice week for middle-school aged-kids from Hamilton, Bradley and Rhea Counties. The program gives kids a chance to tour jails, sit through court trials, and see what it's like to be an offender. The program also toured the Walker State Prison, and on Thursday, deputies from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office will speak to the kids about the importance of not joining gangs. NewsChannel 9 has the story.

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Reduced Time Urged for Non-Violent Drug Offenders

The Justice Department is urging the U.S. Sentencing Commission to approve a measure that would make potentially thousands of non-violent drug offenders now serving time in federal prison eligible for reduced sentences. Attorney General Eric Holder, who supported the commission's April action to cut prison time for certain future drug offenses, is supporting a proposal set for a vote next month that would apply the changes retroactively for current inmates. WBIR reports.

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Commission Recommends 5 for Criminal Appeals Court

The Governor’s Commission on Judicial Appointments met today in Nashville to interview and vote on candidates seeking to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals following the appointment of Judge Jeffrey Bivins to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The panel recommended Circuit Court Judge Robert Lee Holloway Jr., Circuit Judge and Chancellor Larry B. Stanley Jr. and Circuit Court Judge Larry J. Wallace. In a rare move, the commission also sent two additional names to the governor “by acclamation.” The pair – Circuit Court Judge Timothy Lee Easter and District Public Defender Roger Eric Nell – previously were nominated for the Court of Criminal Appeals seat being vacated by Judge Jerry Smith. The governor has not yet named a replacement for Smith.

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Vanderbilt Rape Case Back in Court

A packed courtroom listened to arguments Monday in the legal dispute over access to records in the Vanderbilt University rape case that led to charges against four former football players. At issue is how the state's laws on open records, fair trials and victims' privacy rights intersect as cases move through the courts, the Tennessean reports. Key players in the suit also argued over which court should hear the case. Both issues will be decided by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in the coming weeks.

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DA Bebb Leaving Office 2 Months Early

Steve Bebb, district attorney for Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties, will leave office at the end of this month, taking retirement two months short of the end of his term, the Times Free Press reports. In a letter to state lawmakers in January, Bebb, 73, said he has heart trouble and has had bypass surgery. He declined to comment on the latest revelation. Bebb served three terms as criminal court judge before being elected district attorney. Over the last two years, he has been the subject of numerous investigations by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the state legislature and others. Gov. Bill Haslam will appoint an interim district attorney to oversee the final two months of the term. Steve Crump is set to take office Sept. 1.

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New Grant Will Help Memphis Process Rape Kits

In addition to new funding approved recently by the U.S. House of Representatives, Memphis will get $750,000 to reduce the city’s untested rape kit backlog, the Memphis Daily News reports. The funds will come from the Plough Foundation. Mike Carpenter, executive director of the foundation, says it is a “last dollar” grant. “The city has to come up with the gap in funding, and then we will give the last $750,000 regardless of what the total cost is,” he said. The group also wanted assurances that the city would process every rape kit before it committed to the money.

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Drug Court Gets State Grant

The 15th Judicial District Drug Court has been awarded a $70,000 grant by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Tennessean reports. The drug court program provides community-based treatment and supervision for non-violent felony offenders whose contact with the court system is due to drug or alcohol abuse. The program focuses on treatment, employment, education and supervision and covers Macon, Trousdale, Smith and Jackson counties.

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Deadline Extended for Workers' Comp Board Vacancies

The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments has extended the deadline for applications for three vacancies on the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board to 4 p.m. CDT, June 4. Candidates ultimately chosen by the governor will fill one of three terms: two, four or six years. After the initial terms, each term will be six years and judges are limited to serving two terms. Learn more from the Administrative Office of the Courts. The commission will interview all qualified Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board applicants on June 10 in Nashville. The same day, the commission will also consider applicants for the Court of Criminal Appeals vacancy.

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7 Apply for Court of Criminal Appeals Vacancy

The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments will consider seven applicants when it meets June 10 at Legislative Plaza in Nashville to select nominees for the Court of Criminal Appeals vacancy. The vacancy was created by the appointment of Judge Jeffrey Bivins to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The candidates are: Leslie Anne Collum, assistant district attorney general, Rutherford County; Timothy Lee Easter, Circuit Court judge, Williamson County; Robert Lee Holloway Jr., Circuit Court judge, Maury County; Roger Eric Nell, district public defender, Montgomery County; Larry B. Stanley Jr., Circuit Court judge and chancellor, Warren County; Russell Fletcher Thomas, attorney, Davidson County; and Larry J. Wallace, Circuit Court judge, Stewart County. The meeting will include a public hearing at 8 a.m.

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House Approves Grant Funding Rape Kit Testing

The U.S. House of Representatives yesterday approved an amendment from Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, that would transfer $5 million in federal money to a grant program to help local governments reduce their backlog in testing of rape kits. The amended bill, which funds the Department of Justice, awaits final approval in the House, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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