Criminal

Children of Lorenzen Wright Maintain Their Mother Was Not Involved in His Murder

The children of slain basketball star Lorenzen Wright adamantly dispute that their mother, Sherra Wright, had anything to do with his murder, according to a story in The Los Angeles Times. Wright’s body was found badly decomposed in a Memphis field where he was left after being shot twice in the head and torso and once in his forearm. Wright was ordered in a parenting plan to maintain a $1 million life insurance policy, which authorities believe may have been a motive. The children created a GoFundMe account in late June to help bail out their mother, but had not raised any cash when the article was published.

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Save the Date: TBA Criminal Law Forum

The TBA Criminal Justice Section will present its annual Criminal Law Forum on Dec. 7 at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville. This year's program will feature timely topics such as DNA forensics, the interplay between criminal and immigration law, attorney well-being and more. Following the program we will have a reception, providing networking opportunities for attendees and Criminal Justice Section members. Stay tuned for more details.

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TBI Public Information Officer Accused of Destroying Government Record Resigns

A public information officer with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in West Tennessee has resigned following an internal investigation into former acting TBI director Jason Locke, The Tennessean reports. Micheal Jones is accused of improperly destroying a government record after deleting a private Facebook message sent to TBI from Locke's wife, alleging the misuse of state funds. Jones, who had been on the job for less than a year was placed on administrative leave on June 26, oversaw public affairs for 21 counties in the West Tennessee region.

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White Supremacy was Possible Motive in Murder of Murfreesboro Man

Rutherford County jail intercepted a letter from an inmate charged with the fatal burning of a black man earlier this year that details white supremacy as a possible motive, the Daily News Journal reports. Prosecutors are investigating the case to determine if hate crime sentencing enhancement could be applied to the first-degree murder charge against John Daniel Carothers for the killing of 40-year-old Robert Miller in March. A Murfreesboro police detective testified at an Aug. 8 court hearing that jailers decided to intercept and read Carothers' letter after Googling the organization — the American Institute of Theology — to which the mail was addressed. Carothers was previously convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 and later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in 2011 after allegations of second-degree murder in another case. 

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Accuser Says Johnson and Williams 'Were Like Animals,' in Her First Public Testimony

The woman at the center of rape allegations against two former University of Tennessee football players did not mince words in her testimony, telling jurors on Wednesday that A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams “were like animals” during the incident, The Knoxville News-Sentinel reports. The accuser maintains that she did not initially object when Johnson engaged in sex with her but refused when Williams joined in. The pair of ex-Vols contend the encounter was consensual.

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House Republicans Introduce Articles of Impeachment Against Rosenstein

Conservative lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a resolution calling for the impeachment of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, The Washington Post reports. The effort was led by Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who are leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. All 11 lawmakers who filed the resolution are members of the group. House Republicans have long been critical of the deputy attorney general, accusing him of withholding documents and being insufficiently transparent in his handling of the Russia probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Tennessee Republican congressman Scott DesJarlais co-sponsored the impeachment resolution.

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Jury Selection Underway in the Trial of Former UT Football Player A.J. Johnson

Jury selection for the rape trial of University of Tennessee Football player A.J. Johnson is underway, with jurors being asked about controversial topics such as threesomes, interracial relationships, elitist athletes and the ‘Me Too’ movement, The Knoxville News-Sentinel reports. Johnson and former teammate Michael Williams are accused of raping a female UT athlete during a football victory party at Johnson’s South Knoxville apartment in November 2014. The profile of the case — involving a popular athlete and no eye-witnesses — has sparked concerns of a fair trial, with most of the potential jurors knowing Johnson’s name and the basics of the allegations against him.

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Gov. Haslam Considering High-Profile Clemencies

Gov. Bill Haslam is considering clemency in two high-profile cases prior to leaving office, The Tennessean reports. Among those being considered is Cyntoia Brown, who is serving a life sentence for a 2004 murder of Johnny Allen when she was 16. Brown’s case has been widely publicized, with advocates claiming that she was a victim of sex trafficking and killed Allen because she thought her life was in danger.
 
Haslam also received and is reviewing a request for clemency from Billy Ray Irick, who is scheduled to be put to death next month. Irick was convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl in Knoxville but maintains that he was having a psychotic break at the time of the murder. His execution is scheduled for Aug. 9.

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Prior Crimes Not So Unique as to be Admissible Under TRE 404(b)

There are only so many ways that a particular crime can be committed, so how unique is a particular crime to another such that it is evidence of the identity of the perpetrator? TCCA ruled in State v. Peterson, Tenn. Crim. App. No. W2017-00308-CCA-R3-CD, Apr. 25, 2018, that the other crimes weren’t so distinctive or unique as to be admissible to prove identity in the case then-at-bar.
 
The court quoted several cases including State v. Roberson, 846 S.W.2d at 280 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1992).  “[M]ere similarity in the manner in which two crimes are committed does not produce the relevance necessary for admission — uniqueness does. For not only must the offenses have been committed similarly, but they must also have been committed in a unique and distinctive manner. Obviously, the more unique and distinctive the methods, the more appropriate is the inference. The converse also obtains that is, the less unique and distinctive the methods, the less appropriate the inference.”

Roger E. Nell serves as District Public Defender, 19th Judicial District and chairs the Tennessee Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section. 
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Brian Benczkowski Confirmed to Lead the Justice Department’s Criminal Division

The Senate on Wednesday voted 51 to 48 to confirm President Trump’s nominee Brian Benczkowski to lead the Justice Department’s criminal division, amidst the objection of Democrats who expressed concern regarding his representation of a Russian bank and lack of prosecutorial experience, reports The Washington Post. Benczkowski once represented Alfa Bank — a Russian firm that was referenced in a dossier containing allegations about Trump, his advisers and their possible Russian connections — at the request of a partner in his firm, Kirkland & Ellis. Benczkowski told lawmakers he would recuse himself from any matters involving the bank for two years and would permanently step aside from any matters that touched on his work for the institution.

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