Criminal

Juror in Pastor Rape Case Defends Judge Who Issued Ruling

A juror is defending Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword, who has come under fire for the 12-year sentence he handed out to a pastor convicted of rape and incest, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.The juror, Bill Quillen, says that he was surprised by the backlash and wrote a letter to the News Sentinel stating "(Sword's) conduct of the trial and handling of the jury was impressive … his knowledge and experience are far deeper in what a proper sentence should be than the uninformed on social media where outrage seems to be the norm." Prosecutors in the case had sought the maximum for each charge to be served consecutively, amounting to 72 years. A petition calling for Sword's removal from the bench has garnered more than 14,000 signatures.
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Court to Consider Whether Shoplifting from Walmart Can be Considered Burglary

The Tennessee Supreme Court will consider whether shoplifting from Walmart stores more than once can be considered felony burglary instead of a shoplifting misdemeanor, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. This comes after a policy instituted by Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen in 2016, which seeks to curb multiple offenses and was adopted by several other counties in the state. The Court of Criminal Appeals recently ruled that Allen’s policy is sound, further stating that once a shoplifter has been banned from the store in writing, consent of public patronage has been revoked. Criminals Appeals Judge Camille R. McMullen wrote a dissension saying: “Unlike an individual who owns a building closed to the public, a retail store such as Walmart does not have its privacy invaded and is not terrorized or personally violated when a banned individual commits the offense of shoplifting or theft within one of its stores … by charging individuals in this way, prosecutors are creating an enhanced penalty for shoplifters and petty thieves. The court has not yet set a hearing date.

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Executor of Sedley Alley's Estate Says She Has the Right to Review Crime Scene Evidence

The daughter of Sedley Alley, who was convicted of raping and killing Lance Corporal Suzanne Collins in 1985 and ultimately executed for the crime, yesterday asked a judge in Memphis to allow review of evidence from the murder scene to provide closure on the crime once and for all, The New York Times reports. April Alley maintains that as executor of her father’s estate she is entitled to continue the pursuit of justice and asks that preserved evidence found at the scene — including the victim’s underwear, a pair of red briefs apparently worn by the attacker and a 31-inch tree branch — be tested for DNA and matched against her father’s that was harvested when he was still alive. Alley was initially denied review of the evidence for DNA material, a request prosecutors claimed was a stalling maneuver; however, five years after his execution, the Tennessee Supreme Court concluded the lower court’s denial was errant. 

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Suspect in Infamous Knoxville Killing May See Trial in August

A suspect involved in the grim torture killings of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom in Knoxville 12 years ago is set to stand trial this August, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Eric Dewayne Boyd is currently serving an 18-year federal sentence for his role in carjacking the couple, however, he wasn’t charged in the abduction and murder until just last year. Boyd was in court April 18 rebutting a witness statement that placed him at the scene of the murder, when Knox County Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee rejected his argument, saying it's up to a jury to decide what the witness saw. Boyd’s lawyer has filed a motion to dismiss arguing violation of his right to a speedy trial. He has until June 27 to make his final objections.

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Chattanooga Councilman Byrd Fears for Safety After Altercation With Neighbor

Chattanooga city councilman Anthony Byrd filed a police report out of concern for his safety after a community activist suggested that men drive by his house to “provide protection” for his neighbor, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The activist, Marie Mott, hosts a radio show that featured the neighbor who alleges Byrd threatened her when she was questioning him about her son’s killing, which was ruled as “justified” and why no one was charged in his death. Councilman Byrd later noticed a large amount of traffic driving on his street and became fearful for he and his family’s safety. Mott says that she did not threaten Byrd rather called him out "to hold him accountable” and that “if he's in danger, that falls into his own hands." No charges have been filed and the case was closed as "miscellaneous information."

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Legal and Ethical Concerns Surrounding Genetic Genealogy

Since the capture of the Golden State Killer a year ago, genetic genealogy has become a hot button issue that guarantees to drastically alter the landscape of criminal justice. The process has sparked both legal and ethical concerns regarding use of databases from private companies that initially did not notify customers their genetic information would be used for such measures, with one company in particular — FamilyTreeDNA — formerly working in secret with the FBI that is now marketing itself as a crime fighting tool. The New York Times examines these trends, offering both an overview of the process along with recent, specific cases in which the method was used.

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Shelby County Swears in First Female Chief Public Defender

Shelby County swore in its first female chief public defender yesterday, The Commercial Appeals reports. Phyllis Aluko has spent 25 years in the office where she began as a volunteer, then moving to the trial division for 10 years, later transferring to the appellate division. Judge Bernice Donald of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said at the ceremony: "Phyllis Aluko is now, has been and will be an exceptional public defender … She understands the needs of the office, the needs of the community." Aluko replaces former Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush, who retired in February.
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CCA Raises Issue Regarding State-Federal Concurrent Sentences

Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Camille R. McMullen last week issued an opinion regarding state-federal concurrent sentences. In the opinion, the court sua sponte raised this issue and remanded the case to the trial court:
 
“We are constrained to note that the state judgments in this case show that the Petitioner’s . . . sentences . . . are to be served concurrently with a previously imposed federal sentence . . . .  There are two ways in which the federal sentence may be made concurrent with the state sentence (1) the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) may designate the state prison as the place of confinement for the federal term of imprisonment or (2) the BOP, in its discretion, may accept a state prisoner into federal custody when state officials offer to transfer a prisoner who has not fulfilled the state term of imprisonment.  . . .  [T]here was no testimony at the guilty-plea hearing or the post-conviction hearing as to how the Petitioner settled his federal case, the extent to which there was coordination between federal and state counsel to resolve the matters, or whether the federal court agreed to allow the Petitioner to serve his anticipated state sentence in a federal facility.  While serving a concurrent state and federal sentence is not prohibited by our law, . . . [it] has been roundly criticized by this court for its pitfalls. . . .  Accordingly, we must remand this matter to the post-conviction court for a hearing to determine whether the Petitioner was advised of the consequences of entering a guilty plea based upon the agreement that his state sentence be served concurrently with a prior federal sentence.”  Marty Holland v. State, Tenn. Crim. App. No. W2018-01517-CCA-R3-PC (Mar. 27, 2019).
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Former Montgomery Co. Reserve Deputy Found Guilty of Attempted Reckless Homicide

A former Montgomery County Sheriff's Office reserve deputy was found guilty on Monday regarding an incident where he shot a man after a fender bender, the Leaf Chronicle reports. Samson Peltier fired on the man who claims that he was moving his car as to not block traffic; however, Peltier maintains that the man attempted to hit him with his jeep then flee the scene. The officer was accused of attempted second-degree murder for the incident but was ultimately found guilty of attempted reckless homicide along with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment. The first trial ended in a hung jury, with one juror when polled saying he would not consider convicting Peltier because he had been in law enforcement. Peltier’s sentencing date is set for July 11, when he is facing 3 to 10 years in prison.

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Job Fair in Chattanooga Will Offer Assistance to Ex-Felons

The city of Chattanooga and American Job Center Tennessee will host a free job fair this week that aims to give convicted felons a second chance by assisting them with career placement, the Times Free Press reports. Attendees will also learn important skills to aid in their search, such as how to prepare resumes, dress professionally and how to interview effectively. Staff at the fair will also assist with guidance on the expungement process. For more information and to register, call 423-643-6705 or email dmaddox@chattanooga.gov.
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