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by Catherine Gebhardt

Sevier County is in the northeast corner of Tennessee and home to "Dollywood," a tourist attraction built by a partnership between Dolly Parton and Herschend Family Entertainment. The Sevier County courthouse is pictured above.

(Jun. 27, 2011) — Editor’s Note: The following letter was written by the mother of a child who was shot by a neighbor in December 2009 in Sevier County, TN and has yet to see justice for the crime.  Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and other officials have been notified and asked to investigate.  While the TBI failed to respond at all, Haslam provided a form letter to the mother which did not address the problem at hand.  Ms. Gebhardt has stated that cronyism and corruption have prevented her child, and her friends who were present at the time of the shooting, to achieve a proper resolution through the grand jury and court system.

In March 2011, after Mrs. Gebhardt hired an attorney, the new grand jury issued a true bill and the perpetrator was arrested, then released on bond 15 months after the crime had been committed.

Ms. Gebhardt’s letter was sent to all members of the grand jury who initially examined the evidence presented to them, although Ms. Gebhardt has stated that a sheriff’s department detective falsified the record and she was obstructed from testifying.

June 10, 2011

Re: Your service on Sevier County Grand Jury Panel, May 17 & 18, 2010

Dear Sir or Madam,

I received your name after obtaining and retrieving a copy of the list of grand jurors, who have now been dismissed totally from their duties as a grand juror who served on the Sevier County Grand Jury in May of 2010. I obtained this information from the Sevier County Clerk’s office of Ms. Rita Ellison.

I understand at that time, that many drug related offenses were heard, resulting in over two hundred or so indictments. I have enclosed a copy of an article published by the newspaper, The Mountain Press, which was released and printed after the meeting of that grand jury session and their actions in May 2010, to refresh your memory.

My reason for writing to you is to ask you if you recall a case that involved three minor children whom were victims of reckless
endangerment with a deadly weapon, who were possibly found, at that time when this matter was brought before you for presentation,
to NOT be in the ‘zone of danger’ which subsequently resulted in a No True Bill? There were very few no true bills rendered at this session in May 2010 from which you can see in the newspaper article enclosed. Asst. District Attorney, Timothy Norris, and Detective Jim Huddleston of the Sevier County Sheriffs office, who appeared as the witness, apparently presented this matter to the grand jury?

I am wondering, too, if you were aware that one of those children of the three kids involved was literally assaulted by this gunshot,
sustaining wounds in two places in her body, one being a gunshot to the head? Additionally, were you aware that the two other minor
children were in mere feet of the child shot?

Child who suffered the literal assault still bears the permanence of those wounds, as the fragments embedded in her body and cannot be retrieved surgically without the child incurring even more damage. I am curious to know if you have ever seen the photographs of these gunshot wounds, of which I have enclosed copies for you, which were taken on the day of the incident by a cell phone?  Did you on that day, that you heard this case, literally see photographs of this child’s injuries?

I was unable to attend these proceedings though I am listed as a witness on the grand jury paperwork, of which I have also enclosed a copy of that form for your review.  I am simply trying to elicit information of what content exactly was presented to you by the assistant DA and the witness who appeared before you, in relation to this matter, resulting in the no true bill.

Please know when the matter was brought again forth before the grand jury by private counsel in March of this year (2011) a true bill was indeed found, the three kids were all found to be in the ‘zone of danger’ and there were four felonious indictments handed down at that time against this same defendant, being Aggravated Assault, Aggravated Assault with a deadly weapon, (both of these former charges listed above against the child shot), and additionally two separate counts of Reckless Endangerment with a deadly weapon for the other two children involved. (One charge of reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon per child excluding the child assaulted.)
Please be aware “no additional or new information” was presented to the March 2011 grand jury; as the same exact information was available then in May 2010 for presentation to the grand jury by the DA, including all witnesses present upon the day that this crime was committed, in addition to the gunshot victim herself, and all were readily prepared to testify at that time before you.

The only difference was that in the March 2011 grand jury proceedings, the gunshot victim herself and one of the witnesses that was on the scene when this assault occurred, both physically appeared and testified before those grand jurors as they had wished to do in May 2010, to tell their story of what they saw and experienced on that day. In essence, the three 15-year-old crime victims were not allowed the opportunity to even be present at those grand jury proceedings in May 2010, for unknown reasons.

I am not asking you to disclose what you deliberated about, if anything, or the actual vote you took in rendering a decision on this case, as I understand fully the secrecy of that by statute. However, content that is presented to you by public officials is not secretive by statute as those public officials presenting this material or case to you, are not part of the grand jury by statute.  This, I have been advised of many times over by credible legal counsel.

I am simply curious if you were aware on that day, on which this initially was presented to you, that a child had been literally shot and actually sustained serious injury, potentially risking death?

Are you aware that this head wound, too, required emergent medical attention and follow up being that the fragments came very close to the eye which could have resulted in blindness and /or death, and remain embedded there permanently as well as in her leg too? Emotionally too, this child is still being treated to this day, as the impact of this ordeal caused elements of post traumatic stress disorder, being she was shot unexpectedly, with one shot, “out of thin air” with no warning, which would distress most anyone regardless of age.

Please be aware that I am not accusing any of you of wrong doing nor am I meaning to pose a threat in any way to you, as I am very
confident that you rendered the best decision you were capable of on that day when considering the limited information presented before you at that time in May 2010. I believe in the ideology of the criminal justice system, however, I believe that something may have, or did, go very wrong in the presentation of this matter on the day you heard this.

If a parent, I am sure you can appreciate my position in questioning whether you knew all these factors to consider, as two of those children on this scene (the one literally shot and one endangered) were both my children; therefore I ultimately risked burying two kids that day. Another child, the third involved (again there were three kids total in this ordeal) is not biologically mine but is a friend of my twin girls and lives near us. Her parents, too, are gravely concerned for her welfare, being she, likewise, was in danger of serious injury or death.  This child’s parents too, being Sevier County citizens of long standing, understandably, are also curious as to why this did not warrant a true bill the first time presented in May 2010.

There remain many unanswered questions.

This has been quite an ordeal for all of my children and the other child involved; thus, this has impacted our entire families, especially mine, putting to risk their feeling of well-being and sense of security, as it is our neighbor who admittedly shot the child who was literally struck. To date, the admitted shooter has never expressed remorse.  Further, just months before this shooting of this minor child, another member of my family had a loaded gun pointed at her by member of this same family, of which there is a police report on file, and this information was disclosed to authorities at the time of the minor girl’s shooting.  We as a family have felt, especially the child shot, that the very authorities that were supposed to protect and help us as crime victims, may have acted arbitrarily thus wronging those victims involved, even further.

Next, I beg you to please exercise some empathy for the minor victims involved in this case and place yourself in my position as a mother or parent.  How exactly would you feel should this have been your child or children? Do we all not make great efforts and pains to teach our children the difference between right and wrong and the admission of responsibility and owning up when a wrong is committed? I am simply trying to understand why or how there was no criminal indictment formulated from the evidence, which was available at that time in May 2010, when this matter was originally brought before you.

The criminal justice system in a community should work for all crime victims and citizens regardless of age or background. One is left wondering if the flaw was in the presentation of the matter to you? If that is not the issue and the issue was simply your decision to let this act go without consequence to the defendant accused, despite all of the evidence presented to you, then that decision can ultimately be accepted, though hard to swallow.

If, however, it is a matter of how the case was presented, or possibly, if the matter was not presented thoroughly, it seems that
this problem should be readily identified and immediate corrections made to ensure that this sort of injustice does not happen to others who live in our community. If this can happen to my child or children, then most logically, it can also happen to anyone who resides here in this community, whether it be a friend, neighbor, loved one or family member, involving any one of us.

I implore you to utilize your good consciousness about this matter, as a good and decent citizen, as to what you remember about this
particular presentation and potentially why it failed the first time.

Thank you.


Catherine Gebhardt
(Mother of Redacted)