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by Sharon Rondeau

Can justice be found anywhere in Monroe County or in the state of Tennessee?

(Dec. 13, 2010) — The Post & Email was put in touch with a relative of a man who was sentenced to 18 years in prison for a murder about which the relative reports Judge Carroll Ross stated that he believed the defendant was not guilty but sentenced him to 18 years in prison anyway.

The state of Tennessee’s response to Burnett’s first appeal last year seems to indicate on page 10 that hearsay evidence was used to convict Burnett, yet it upholds the original conviction from the trial court in Monroe County.  Burnett and another co-defendant, Spencer Coon, had been tried “together,” according to the relative.  While Coon was found “not guilty,” Burnett was found guilty by the jury.  The motion for a new trial was denied (page 2 of state’s rebuttal).

An interview between Burnett and an Agent Elrod of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (pages 3-4) yielded a statement from Burnett that the victim in the case, Thomas Ratti, had stolen items from him which he had attempted to recover, but that Burnett had walked away following a physical confrontation with Ratti.  He then claimed that Spencer Coon threatened his safety and that of his family by stating that “if he told anyone what happened that day, he would duct tape him, Burnett, to a tree, make him watch as he burned his family up in their house” (page 4).

The same rebuttal document was posted on the website of the Tennessee Bar Association on August 17, 2009.  However, this writer found no evidence of local media reporting on the original murder trial.

The Post & Email has communicated on various occasions with an Agent Elrod at the TBI on matters regarding  apparently corruption in Monroe County, but the only response we have received were his email address and a confirmation that the fax machine was operational at the time.  We have reported information which has been reported to us by members of the community, including corrupt judges, “rigged” grand juries, and police brutality. We have reported the same events to the FBI in Knoxville.

The following is our interview with Mr. Burnett’s relative.

MRS. RONDEAU: Can you tell us what happened the day the victim was murdered and how your son was involved?

RELATIVE: He was gettin’ a car parked; somethin’ in his truck was breakin’ down, and he went out there, which by bein’ around there quite a bit, there’s a drug place.  I don’t know why because he was a businessman and all that, unless he just got into some drugs.  But he was out there takin’ a part off, and this other guy came up that had been out there hangin’ around, and he stole a ring off of this Spencer Coon.  A guy named Greenbob stepped out of his house.  Well, Spencer Coon and Dwight Bright were supposed to have been the ones that beat ‘im up and killed ‘im by steppin’ on ‘im, and they used baseball bats.  There were several witnesses around there.  My son was there, and first they kicked that guy, and the guy is the one who had the ring.  Well, they threatened all these people and some of ’em talked. Some of ’em wouldn’t because they were scared of Dwight Bright and Spencer Coon.  So some of ’em testified and said that Dennis is the one that done it.  But Spencer Coon had the body in his truck and showed it to three different people.  Well, them people took off and went to California, so they couldn’t be here, but when the trial went, Judge Ross wouldn’t do a separate trial.  He done one trial with both of ’em there.

MRS. RONDEAU: Other people have reported the same thing, that people are tried together.  I had always believed that each defendant is entitled to a separate trial.

RELATIVE: That’s what I had heard.  His lawyer tried to get ‘im one  and he tried to get it moved to Knoxville, but this Spencer Coon, now…his whole family is well-known.  His brother and sisters are drug addicts, but his mom is also president of MADD.  I don’t know for sure, but I heard that Spencer gave $10,000 to Judge Ross for some kind of a deal right before the court, ’cause there was all kinds of stuff that went on.  Anyway, they found Spencer Coon not guilty even though once he got up there and started sayin’ how he done it, how he carried the body around, and Judge Ross told his attorney – they went for a recess and took ‘im out and all and talked to ‘im – so he came back and he changed his story around.  Well, that was Dennis; I just told you what Dennis said.

MRS. RONDEAU: When did Coon allegedly confess to the murder?

RELATIVE: It was at the court, but I don’t have the exact dates with me.

MRS. RONDEAU: About how long ago was the trial?

RELATIVE: It’s been about three or four years.  He was trying to get an appeal.  The murder happened about four years ago. The young boy that was on the jury, he told his brother which my youngest son picked him up when he was walkin’ to Sweetwater and my son was goin’ back to Sweetwater, and he was over here in Madisonville.  He picked this guy up and they got to talkin’ about the trial – this was right after the trial, and he said his brother was on the jury, and he kept sayin’ he was not guilty, and there was another woman.  Well, they just kept on and on at ‘im until he went ahead and went on with “guilty.”  He said his brother said he knew Dennis wasn’t guilty; there was too much circumstance.

MRS. RONDEAU: So your son was convicted, but you believe he was convicted wrongly?


MRS. RONDEAU: Has he been serving time in prison since then?

RELATIVE: Yes, in Mountain City.  He has a new attorney now; Richard Hughes, his new court-appointed attorney.  Before he had another one, Charles Currier, who wouldn’t do nothin’.

MRS. RONDEAU: I’ve heard the name “Richard Hughes.”  I’ve been told that all the defense attorneys work for the judges there.

RELATIVE: He is the one that Judge Ross appointed.

MRS. RONDEAU: What has your son said about his role in the murder, if any?

RELATIVE: He said that Spencer Coon is the one who took the police out to where the body was hidden.  If my son done it, he didn’t tell nobody.  How would Spencer Coon know?  My son didn’t even know where it was, but it was buried somewhere about four or five miles from my son’s house, over by Englewood.

MRS. RONDEAU: So Spencer Coon knew where the body was, and he led the police to that?

RELATIVE: Yes, although he was arrested on a bunch of other charges.

MRS. RONDEAU: Was Coon sentenced to prison also?

RELATIVE: Yes, but not for that.  He got 40 years for other things that he’d done:  evading arrest, shootin’ at the police, drugs, all kinds of it.

MRS. RONDEAU: But Coon is the one who was bragging in court that he was the murderer?

RELATIVE: He wasn’t bragging in court; he was bragging before they went to court and before they arrested him.

MRS. RONDEAU: But he said he did it?


MRS. RONDEAU: So they sent him to prison for other things, but not this murder.  Do you think they sent the wrong person away for the murder?

RELATIVE: Right, that’s what we think.  Even the judge said he didn’t think he was guilty, but somebody had to pay for it.  I was there; I heard it said that the judge believed he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Dwight Bright went around threatenin’ everybody, and before my son would talk there for a while, they had threatened to kill his wife and three children…

MRS. RONDEAU: Who threatened that?

RELATIVE: Dwight Bright and Kirsten Bright.

MRS. RONDEAU: Who are these people?

RELATIVE: They were in on it; it was at their place where the killing took place, and they even threatened in a roundabout way to tell me and my husband that if we got involved, if we tried to do somethin,’ they were goin’ to chain our doors down – we live in a mobile home – and set us on fire.

MRS. RONDEAU: Do you think they would have done that?

RELATIVE: Well, I’ve heard they burned one other place over here one time over the guy’s wife who he had run off with.  My husband told ‘im, “Come on.”  He said, “You go tell ’em to come on; I’m not a bit scared.”

MRS. RONDEAU: The Post & Email has been reporting on the corruption in Monroe County for the last five or six months, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.  Who was the judge who declared that he thought your son was innocent of the murder?

RELATIVE: Judge Ross.

MRS. RONDEAU: He actually said that in court?

RELATIVE: Yes, he said it before the sentencing.  He said, “You know, I could give you three to life, but I really don’t think you done it; I think you were in the wrong place at the wrong time; but other people have said this and that who appeared on the stand, so I’m going to give you 18 years.”

MRS. RONDEAU: So your son is appealing the 18-year sentence and the hearing is tomorrow?

RELATIVE: Yes, in the mornin’.

MRS. RONDEAU: Do you think the jury for your son’s trial was rigged or fair?

RELATIVE: I think it was rigged, because there was a paper of a witness who was there and said she knew who done it…she had given this statement to my son’s lawyer at the time, Charles Currier.  Her son was supposed to bring some papers up to the court that mornin’ because he had forgot and he came from Knoxville.  Well, for some reason, the one woman juror went to the women’s bathroom and found it on the counter, on the sink, and read it.  She took it to Judge Ross, and he threw the witness out and the paper.  Charles Currier said his son went in there to wash his hands and he must just have left it.

MRS. RONDEAU: In the ladies’ bathroom?

RELATIVE: The jury’s bathroom.  So I think Charles Currier completely lost it…there were things he should have asked, told this and that, and wanted to question…he didn’t do nothin’.  I think he was in on this all along, ’cause it was the night before, after two years, that my son had been tellin’ him all kinds of stuff for a year and a half about what went on, who to contact, this and that, and these couple of tapes that he got – one was of Scott Stewart – and he got on the stand and said that Dennis had come to his house that day to give him a necklace early that morning and told him that he killed Ratti.  Well, Dennis didn’t even go there; he went straight home.  His wife even testified that he came right home and the time he got home.  Well, that guy, Scott Stewart, and his wife – she was in the other room, but he wasn’t there.  She said she overheard it, too. So they got up and testified.  Well, later on in the trial, he was in the hospital after a motorcycle wreck, and Charles Currier and this lady, Jean, they went up and recorded his statement, and he said they lied on the stand.  So when he said that, his mother run them off.  But that tape now has disappeared.  It was entered into the court for another appeal that he tried and was denied. That tape disappeared after we turned it into the court, supposedly.

MRS. RONDEAU: I’ve heard this before:  transcripts disappearing or being altered.  The Post & Email is trying to purchase a transcript now and cannot get a simple response from the court clerk as to where to send the money.

Editor’s Note: The reason we are not sure where to send the money is that Walter Fitzpatrick had been told that the transcript had been given to Atty. Randy Rogers, who affirmed that it was in his possession, but when Fitzpatrick went to pick it up, he allegedly was turned away empty-handed.  We also are not sure whether or not the court has a copy of this transcript.

RELATIVE: Most of what happened in the court and was said is not even in the transcript.

MRS. RONDEAU: Do you have a copy of the transcript from your son’s trial?

RELATIVE: No, I do not.

MRS. RONDEAU: Have you ever read it?

RELATIVE: No.  My son had it, and he read some of it to me.  He said, “Mom, that wasn’t the way it went.’  And I said, “Yeah, I know that.”  His wife and daughters couldn’t come in ’cause she was testifyin’, but my younger son, his wife and a friend of ours where she lives back in Missouri, we were all there.

MRS. RONDEAU: So you attended the hearing, and your son later read the transcript from that hearing and said, “This didn’t happen,” and you agree?


MRS. RONDEAU: Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty?”

RELATIVE: They didn’t do that.  People who wasn’t there just heard this and that and went and testified.

MRS. RONDEAU: Were there any eyewitnesses at the trial who testified and said they saw your son commit the crime?

RELATIVE: Spencer Coon and his wife were in the house, and Kirsten Bright looked out the window and she seen what went on.  Well, before all of this came on, before he got arrested, Spencer sent his wife to Texas, and she supposedly divorced him when she was in Texas.  Well, she came back later after he got locked up in jail on his stuff.  Someone talked to him; I’m not sure who, but said she was willin’ to come forward and say that she seen what really happened and that Spencer and Dwight Bright were the ones who was beatin’ him and Spencer is the one that stood on his throat and choked him to death with his foot.

MRS. RONDEAU: Is she back in the area?

RELATIVE: I don’t know for sure.  I can’t remember her name except for “Coon.”

MRS. RONDEAU: Has she ever said that your son was involved?

RELATIVE: She said that he was there and he just stood there – him and another guy both had to stand there and watch what they’d done, because Ratti is the one who had the ring, and when they got through with him, they were goin’ to work them over if they were involved in it, but they weren’t.  So when the ring disappeared, my son and this other guy weren’t even there.  That other guy is gone; he’s disappeared too, somewhere.

MRS. RONDEAU: Has your son ever said that he tried to stop what was going on?

RELATIVE: No, he didn’t say, but he said they had a gun in his back, so he couldn’t do nothing.  And this guy named Herschel Moore who my son was friends with couldn’t come over that same morning and wanted to know if he had a backhoe.  He wanted him to take that backhoe somewhere and dig a hole and help him, and he supposedly showed him the body and wanted him to dig a hole and bury it, and he said he didn’t want no part of it.  Now Herschel Moore had went to jail later after that, but he’s back and workin’ at Morgan’s Meat Cuttin’ – cuttin’ up meat and stuff.

MRS. RONDEAU: Did Mr. Moore go to jail?

RELATIVE: He went for a short time to prison, but I think he’s been out a year or year and a half ago.  Charles Currier didn’t talk to ‘im; he’s one of the guys that ended up leavin’ and goin’ to California before the trial came on.

MRS. RONDEAU: Isn’t that strange that a lot of people apparently left the area and went as far away as they could go?

RELATIVE: Well, everybody was scared of the Coons.  Spencer Coon has two other brothers.  One girl that was in jail who wanted to tell somethin’ – Spencer Coon’s sister beat the tar out of her in jail if she got up and talked.

MRS. RONDEAU: Did she threaten her or actually beat her up?

RELATIVE: She beat her up.  After the girl got out of jail, she said she’d gotten beat up by the sister.

MRS. RONDEAU: What was her name?

RELATIVE: My son knows all these names; I don’t know these people and I’m real bad with names.  I wish you could talk to him, because he could tell you the name of everybody.

MRS. RONDEAU: He can call me collect today if he wants.  I realize his trial is tomorrow morning.  What do you think of the newspaper coverage of the courts and trials going on in your area?

RELATIVE: I’ve seen different things and taken a friend to court on DUIs, and some of the stuff that went on in court is unbelievable.  You can go out here and have a meth lab, have a baby in your house and children, and you get 11/29 suspended with a fine.  That’s ridiculous.  You’re making this stuff out of just any and everythin’, and that’s killing people.

MRS. RONDEAU: I understand that methamphetamine is a big problem in your area.

RELATIVE: Oh, it’s very bad.

MRS. RONDEAU: Are a lot of people addicted to it?

RELATIVE: Yes, they are; I have seen some beautiful girls and guys, and in a year, they look 30 years older than they are.  It’s horrible.  There was a guy the other day in The Buzz, I swear, he looks over 60 years old, and he’s only 38.

MRS. RONDEAU: And this is from years of drug abuse?

RELATIVE: Yes, and makin’ it.  He just got busted.

MRS. RONDEAU: Do you think a lot of the people who make methamphetamines go to jail, or are they allowed to just keep doing it?

RELATIVE: They’re allowed to keep doing it.

MRS. RONDEAU: And why is that?

RELATIVE: Well, they’re gettin’ money for the bond, and I think that they’re in on the bond money – the courts and all that – and the fines, and then everythin’ is suspended, this and that…they’re back on the street.

RELATIVE’S HUSBAND: It’s not the sheriff.  It’s the judge and the lawyers and the District Attorney. It’s not Bill Bivens, the sheriff.

RELATIVE: He’s out there arrestin’ ’em.

MRS. RONDEAU: So do you think the sheriff is doing an honest day’s work?

RELATIVE: Yes, I do.

RELATIVE’S HUSBAND: Yes, he’s doing his fair share and then some.

MRS. RONDEAU: But you’re saying the others are crooked?

RELATIVE’S HUSBAND: This whole damn county is crooked judicial/judge-wise, and the lawyers and all that.

MRS. RONDEAU: When you say “the lawyers,” are you talking about defense attorneys?

RELATIVE: Defense attorneys, and even the ones that you go out and hire, even from another county.  They’re in on this.

MRS. RONDEAU: You’re not the first person who has said that.  Do you remember anything about the grand jury which originally indicted your son?

RELATIVE: No, it’s too far back.

MRS. RONDEAU: One of the things we have found out over the past nine months is that the grand jury foreman has been serving for more than 20 years consecutively.  Judge Carroll Ross is on record as having said that there’s nothing wrong with the foreman serving for 20 years, 50 years, or however long they want.  He said he never appointed a grand jury foreman.  However, the law states that the names for each grand jury are drawn in an automated way and are then assembled and culled through for prejudices or other reasons why they cannot serve.  I’ve been told that the foreman is supposed to be picked from that new group of people each time.

RELATIVE: That’s what I thought.

MRS. RONDEAU: But Monroe County, and other Tennessee counties, have had the same foremen for over 20 years, which could cast doubt on their objectivity.  There also appear to be two other repeat jurors in the case of Walter Fitzpatrick alone:  one during his December 1 trial, and Angela Davis, who has served in both 2009 and 2010 with the knowledge of the court and the judges.

RELATIVE: That’s what my son was tellin’ me Saturday night:  that the jury they used on him had been in court a bunch of times.

MRS. RONDEAU: If your son was indicted four years ago, then Gary Pettway was the foreman.  If  it’s true that the foreman is not supposed to be serving year after year, then he would have been one person who shouldn’t have been there.  In Mr. Fitzpatrick’s case, an Angela Davis has served in both 2009 and 2010, but the judge maintained that “there’s no proof that it’s the same person.”  However, I have asked court personnel why the onus is not on them to make sure that the same people are not serving consecutively.  It shouldn’t be up to an outside observer or defendant to prove it.

I have been told that it would cost $1,200 to obtain a transcript of Mr. Fitzpatrick’s trial and that it would cost him $1,600.  Have you tried to obtain a copy of your son’s transcript?

RELATIVE: I was told I would have to pay so much to get it, but my son could get it, but he’s been stopped every time he’s tried and can’t get it right now.

MRS. RONDEAU: Why did they say he can’t get it?

RELATIVE: I don’t remember.  I just know he told me when I was visitin’ him – I think it was this week, Monday and Wednesday – that he’s been tryin’ to get a transcript from the court.  He’s got one of the appeal that Charles Currier got when he done an appeal on ‘im, and Judge Ross just said, “Oh, you ain’t got enough evidence.”  Then Dennis, he had to file papers on Charles Currier for not doin’ his job at the trial, for bein’ incompetent, and Charles Currier done a signed document and all that, and admitted that he messed the trial up.  And this is why he got another appeal.

MRS. RONDEAU: And this lawyer’s name is “Currier”?

RELATIVE: Yes, Charles Currier.  He’s out of Knoxville. He used to have an office in Madisonville with another lawyer, but he’s not there no more.  His name’s off the board, so he just comes from Knoxville.  My husband tried to tell ‘im, “You need to get another attorney.”  He said, “I have no more money.”  We set my vehicles up; I lost my business; he had a granite shop in Vonore, and he was doin’ great until all this happened.  He lost everything.

MRS. RONDEAU: So he was in business for himself?


MRS. RONDEAU: Had your son ever been in trouble before the Ratti murder?

RELATIVE: In Oklahoma, he got in trouble.  I’m not sure of his age; I think he was 20 or 21 – for buying stolen property.  He bought a china cabinet off a guy and he put it out to sell.  Then they found it, and the guy said it was his.  They didn’t get the guy that stole it; they got him for buying stolen property.  He got two years on that, but he only had to do a year and somethin’.

MRS. RONDEAU: Do you think your son knew that the property was stolen?

RELATIVE: I don’t know.  I lived in Texas at that time, so he never said if he knew it was stolen.  But he did get in trouble out there over that.

MRS. RONDEAU: Where did he go after doing his time in Oklahoma?

RELATIVE: When he got off of parole after, he stayed with my mom and dad, and when he got off, I was livin’ in Florida and he came out there.  My other boys was in Florida at that time, and he came out there, went to work, met his wife, and they had a daughter.  She had two children who are his stepchildren.  Anyway, we moved up here, and they decided to move up here, too.

MRS. RONDEAU: Are you originally from Tennessee?

RELATIVE: No, I’m from Oklahoma.

MRS. RONDEAU: What made you decide to settle in Monroe County?

RELATIVE: We had some friends that had moved up here from Florida a few years before, and we came up here on vacation.  We just liked it so well, and I was allergic to everything in Florida:  the palm trees, orange and grapefruit trees, and they told me I needed to leave Florida because I was bein’ hospitalized all the time for it, and we came up here and we liked it up here.  We found this place here and we’ve been in it for almost 14 years.

MRS. RONDEAU: I have heard that the scenery is beautiful and that people don’t want to leave, yet there seems to be terrible corruption in the courts.

RELATIVE: I called the FBI on Friday, but they won’t take the case, and they said unless I have real grounds that I can show them that this happened…well, I have no way of showing ’em.

MRS. RONDEAU: You might have to get a hold of the transcript if you could.  If there’s a transcript that states what you heard the judge say, that he didn’t believe your son was guilty but was sentencing him to 18 years in prison anyway, that might be something the FBI can look into.

RELATIVE: I don’t know, ’cause I ain’t seen the transcript, but I just know what he said in court.  I told ’em I thought the jury was tampered with, and he said I have to have concrete evidence; they wouldn’t go with just somebody callin’ in and complainin’.

MRS. RONDEAU: From what I’ve been told, many, many people have called the FBI, possibly thousands.

RELATIVE: My son was up in Mountain City, in prison up there, and Richard Hughes and his investigator, they said they couldn’t go up there to where he was ’cause it was four and a half hours up there.  They only give ’em a certain length of time to talk and go over the paperwork, then it’s four and a half hours back.  So they wanted him moved here to talk with him and go over things.  He’s been here since sometime in the first part of November, and they’ve seen him only one time and talked to him for about an hour and a half, and they haven’t been back.

MRS. RONDEAU: What does that tell you?

RELATIVE: It tells me that they’re not gonna do anything.  But he saw my son, and they’ve told me that they believe he’s innocent, too.  They’ve called me several times.

MRS. RONDEAU: Has Richard Hughes said that to you personally?

RELATIVE: Yes.  And that Louis Jones, the investigator, he said that they feel that he’s not really guilty.

MRS. RONDEAU: Perhaps they will do something, then.

RELATIVE: I’m hopin’ they do.

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  1. Spencer Coon does not have 2 brothers. He only has 1 brother and 1 sister. I know this because I am Spencer’s cousin. It also seems to me that you need to get the other side of the story which would be Spencer’s account of things because Mr. Burnett’s relative flip flopped back and forth on the information provided to you.
    Mrs. Rondeau replies: Have the appropriate person get in touch with me at editor@thepostemail.com and we will be glad to post his side of the story.

  2. I just clicked on another link (within the IP’s website) and found this (among other things):

    The Innocence Project is not equipped to handle telephone or electronic (email) applications.

    The Innocence Project only accepts cases on post-conviction appeal in which DNA testing can prove innocence. If the case does not involve biological evidence or DNA, visit the Other Innocence Organizations page to see if there is a program in your area that provides broader legal and investigative assistance.

    So they wouldn’t be able to help anyway. :(

  3. We watched the movie an Appalachian Dawn Sunday night. This is the story of Manchester, a town in Clay County KY about 150 miles north of Monroe County, TN. The movie shows yet another corrupt area in the southern Appalachians and how the town and a special law enforcement task force cleaned up the corruption. Folks from Clay County are now working with parties in Monroe County to encourage the same grassroots effort there that got the KY county turned around. The take away from the movie is that it won’t happen unless the local folks make it happen.

  4. It would seem to me,Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld wouldn’t have any problem getting convictions tossed out considering the kangaroo Grand Juries that have been uncovered by Walter Fitzpatrick. Of course it may be a tough task for them to get around “No Standing” or “No jurisdiction” or basically corrupt judges and courts.

  5. If money is changing hands for favors it must show someplace. Check the public records to see what salaries have been paid to each individual from sheriff to judges. Check the property tax statements to get housing values. Catalog the major property items in view like vehicles, boats, second homes/ camps, heavy equipment and the age of these things so values might be assessed. Note if inheritances may have influenced personal wealth. It all has to add up. If you see huge bank accounts plus huge debt and a lot of personal property laying around that a given salary doesn’t support then there is reason to be concerned there is money and/ or property changing hands for some unexplained reason. It is your duty as citizens to watch your hires closely. Greed can easily drive anyone to corruption just as easy as lust. I’d say you folks in Monroe county are fighting two battles both linked at the hip over illegal profit, drugs and systemic legal abuse.

  6. I think that people should pay for their crimes, but I will admit that there are many in prisons that are innocent, and some of that had to do with (possibly) some idiot being reelected to an office.

  7. Sharon,
    Have you ever heard of Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. They founded “The Innocence Project. They have been successful in overturning a multitude of cases where innocent people have been sent to prison (and many to death row). I think they handle mostly capital cases, but it wouldn’t hurt to check. Here is the link:
    Mrs. Rondeau replies: No, I haven’t. Thank you for the information.