News

Speedy Sentencing Not Guaranteed Under 6th Amendment, Court Rules

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial does not protect the right to a speedy sentence, the ABA Journal reports. The unanimous opinion was against a Montana man who argued for a reduction in his sentence after waiting in jail more than 14 months following his guilty plea.

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Report: TDOC Allowed Parolees to Avoid Mandatory Classes

A WSMV investigation revealed the Tennessee Department of Correction allowed for 115 parolees to avoid taking mandated domestic violence classes and hundreds of other criminals are still not enrolled in the classes. A TDOC administrator said there was a backlog of parolees assigned to classes because there were not enough parole officers to teach them. The department later hired a private company to teach the classes, but sentences has already expired for the 115 parolees. 

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Judge Rules Social Media Threats Were 'Obstruction of Justice'

Senior U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan today ruled that the Facebook messages and memes an East Tennessee man used to threaten a witness were an obstruction of social justice. The judge sentenced Daniel Ray Sands to 37 months in federal prison after Sands used social media to threaten a witness against his drug-trafficking father. Read more from the Knoxville News Sentinel

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Editorial: Mentally Ill Should be Excluded from Death Penalty

“Excluding individuals with severe mental illness from the death penalty on a case-by-case basis is just smart policy,” Hannah Cox writes in an opinion editorial for The Tennessean. Cox, coordinator of Tennessee Alliance for the Severe Mental Illness Exclusion, argues that the current lack of treatment for mental illness has resulted in law enforcement becoming responsible for these individuals. She adds excluding the mentally ill from death row will allow resources to be redirected to mental health care and victims' compensation. 

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Sentencing Delayed for Former Vanderbilt Football Player

Sentencing of convicted rapist Cory Batey has been postponed two months, the Nashville Post reports. The former Vanderbilt football player was to be sentenced on May 20, but scheduling conflicts led to a delay until July 15. Batey was convicted this spring in the June 2013 assault of a former Vanderbilt co-ed in an on-campus dormitory. The woman was unconscious at the time of the attack. Batey is one of four former Vanderbilt football players charged in the case.

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Court to Consider if Dementia Should Stop Execution

The execution of an Alabama inmate who had suffered strokes and dementia was delayed today, after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it wanted to review lawyers' claims that it would be unconstitutional to execute the man because he is no longer competent, WRCB-TV reports. The appellate court said it will hear oral arguments in the case this June, however, the Alabama attorney general's office responded with an emergency motion to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to let the execution proceed before the death warrant expires at midnight.

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Widow Convicted in Baumgartner's Court Wins New Trial

The Knoxville woman dubbed “The Black Widow” has been granted a new trial in the death of her second husband, WATE.com reports. Raynella Dossett-Leath had sought a new trial after Judge Richard Baumgartner, who presided over her conviction, pleaded guilty to official misconduct for trading sex for drugs with a woman in his court.

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Gibbons Stepping Down as Homeland Security Commissioner

State Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons is vacating his position at the end of August. Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Gibbons, former Shelby County district attorney general, to his current Cabinet position in January 2011. The Commercial Appeal reports Gibbons is expected to lead a new partnership between the Memphis Crime Commission and the University of Memphis.

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Ooltewah Official Sentenced for Failing to Report Abuse

 A judge today approved sentencing Allard “Jesse” Nayadley, the assistant principal and athletic director at Ooltewah High School, for failing to report child abuse of four students. The incident happened in December while basketball team members were in Gatlinburg for a basketball tournament. Nayadley was sentenced to community service and a class on mandatory reporting. Two former Ooltewah basketball coaches were also charged for failing to report child sexual abuse, WBIR reports

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Report: Prisons Do Not Notify Victims if Attackers Have Hepatitis C

The Tennessean explores “privacy versus saving lives” as it reports the state prison system does not notify a victim who was raped by an inmate with hepatitis C.  At least 3,487 Tennessee inmates — about one in eight — have tested positive for hepatitis C. Health and legal experts suggest treating people with the condition in the prison system could potentially eliminate the disease in society altogether. 

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Washington County Public Defenders Relocate

The Washington County Public Defender’s Office has moved to 1102 Sunset Drive in North Johnson City. Johnson City Press reports the office’s landlines are not completely installed, but Public Defender Jeff Kelly said those who need the office may call 423-434-6845 and they will be given the cell phone number of an attorney. 

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Phone Records Raise More Questions in UT Rape Case

Cell phone records previously revealed University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones made calls to police and players shortly after an alleged rape involving team members, but the records also show Jones called Knoxville attorney Wilson S. Ritchie. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that within months of the alleged rape, accused former player A.J. Johnson would retain attorneys from Ritchie’s late brother’s firm. Johnson, who along with Michael Williams was indicted for rape in 2015, is also currently employed by Ritchie’s family business. UT athletics department spokesman Ryan Robinson said Friday that Jones and Ritchie did not discuss representation for or employment for Johnson. 

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Jimmy Haslam Agrees to Deposition Under Specific Circumstances

The Tennessean reports Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Pilot Flying J, agreed to be deposed as part of lawsuits claiming the company was involved in a fraud rebate scheme. Haslam’s attorney said that he will only sit for a deposition under specific circumstances, including a provision delaying any deposition until after an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. Haslam has denied knowing about the scheme and has not been charged. 

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4 Tennesseans Get Sentences Commuted

The Obama administration today commuted the prison sentences of 58 federal convicts, four of whom are from Tennessee. Three of the four Tennesseans were sentenced for crimes involving cocaine. The other was sentenced for a crime involving methamphetamine. The prisoners are scheduled to be released Sept. 2, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports

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Sexual Abuse Victim Files $10M Suit Against Madison Church

A sexual abuse victim has filed a suit against Cornerstone Nashville church and his abuser seeking $10 million in punitive damages, The Tennessean reports. In the suit filed in Davidson County Circuit Court two weeks ago, the victim said the Madison church appointed Brian L. Mitchell to be his mentor despite Mitchell's prior criminal history and allowed them to be alone together. The suit references incidents that span 2007 and 2008. Mitchell was convicted of aggravated sexual battery for a 2007 incident after the victim told a therapist about the incident. 

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Williamson County Public Defenders Limit New Cases

Assistant public defenders in Williamson County have stopped accepting some new cases due to case overload, The Tennessean reports. "We’re not refusing all cases, we're just telling the judge each day we’re in court, 'as of right now I cannot accept this case,'" said 21st District Public Defender Vanessa Bryan. But District Attorney Kim Helper is challenging the case refusals, and said she plans to file a formal objection next week that will ask the public defender to provide more evidence of the overwhelming caseloads. Indigent cases have been handed over to private attorneys, which Helper said is costing taxpayers. 

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UT Sexual Assault Suit Will Continue, Judge Rules

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger today ruled a sweeping federal sexual assault lawsuit against the University of Tennessee will proceed, The Tennessean reports. Judge Trauger did grant one dismissal request from the university’s lawyers, saying the statute of limitations had expired for one plaintiff's claims of “deliberate indifference” to sexual assaults by UT athletes before her alleged sexual assault in 2013.

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Former Sheriff to Receive New Trial After Trial Court Error

Former Henderson County Sheriff Ricky Lunsford, who was sentenced to prison after opening fire on his wife in a bar parking lot, will receive a new trial. According to the ruling handed down Friday by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, the trial court failed to properly instruct the jury. Lunsford has remained free on bond throughout the appeals process, WBBJ reports.   

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Delay Likely for Cory Batey Sentencing, Prosecutor Says

Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman told The Tennessean today that a delay of the May 20 sentencing of Cory Batey is likely. Batey, a former Vanderbilt University football player, was convicted earlier this month for aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery. His conviction for aggravated rape alone carries 15 to 26 years in prison. Prosecutors in Batey’s case and defense attorneys for Brandon Vandenburg – another former Vanderbilt player previously convicted in the 2013 rape – met for a status hearing this morning with Judge Monte Watkins. Vandenburg’s retrial is scheduled for June 13

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Retrial for Man Sentenced to Death Underway in Memphis

The retrial of Michael Rimmer, who was sentenced to death 17 years ago for killing his girlfriend, began today in Shelby County Criminal Court. The Commercial Appeal reports Rimmer’s new trial was ordered in 2012 after a judge found Rimmer’s counsel failed to effectively investigate the case. A judge also found Shelby County attorney Thomas Henderson, who prosecuted Rimmer, "purposefully misled" Rimmer’s defense counsel about evidence. 

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Trial Date Set for Allison Burchett

WATE reports the trial date for Allison Burchett, the ex-wife of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, is set for Jan. 17. Allison Burchett is accused of stalking and cyber attacks against her boyfriend’s estranged wife.

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Vandenburg to Face Memphis Jury in Retrial

The jury that will hear the retrial of former Vanderbilt University football player Brandon Vandenburg will be chosen in Memphis, The Tennessean reports. Vandenburg's retrial is scheduled for June 13 in Nashville. Vandenburg and Cory Batey were found guilty of aggravated rape and other charges after a 2015 trial, but a mistrial was declared due to juror misconduct. Their retrials were split due to a medical condition of one of Vandenburg’s attorneys, which resulted in a delay. Jury selection is expected to happen the week before the trial.

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New Trial Scheduled After Juror's Objection on Race

Is it a true jury of peers if a person’s race is not represented? The Tennessean explores a Nashville case in which a juror’s objections to two black men facing a jury with no black jurors led to a trial delay earlier this month. The case involves two men accused of attacking two people during a 2014 fight in Madison. Defense attorneys accused the state of rejecting jurors based on race, a claim the state denied. The pair’s trial has been rescheduled for May 23. The article highlights the national precedent for jury selection and race set by the U.S. Supreme Court case Batson v. Kentucky

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State Drops Sex Offender Charges Against Batey

Prosecutors dropped charges against former Vanderbilt University football player Cory Batey that accused him of violating the sex offender registry law. The Tennessean reports General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell today granted Assistant District Attorney General Addie Askew’s request to dismiss the charges. Batey’s sentencing for aggravated rape and other charges is set for May 20. 

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Confidential Settlement Reached in Erin Andrews Case

Television personality Erin Andrews reached a settlement today in her lawsuit against West End Hotel Partners and Windsor Capital Group, the hotel owner and operator that allowed a stalker to secretly record her naked though a peephole. The Tennessean reports the terms of the agreement are confidential. A Nashville jury awarded Andrews $55 million in March and said Andrews’ stalker, Michael David Barrett, was responsible for $28 million of that. Attorney Randall Kinnard, who represented Andrews, had asked the judge to hold the hotel responsible for the full $55 million. 

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