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by Sharon Rondeau
(Sep. 1, 2014) — Filmmaker William F. Fain has released a “snippet” from an upcoming promotional video presentation of “The Field Report” to be hosted by Lt. Col. Field McConnell (USAF-Ret.) pending studio approval.
Fain recently told The Post & Email that a sponsor for the series, which will feature various hardships experienced by U.S. military veterans, has already been secured. On Monday, Fain said that he is currently “working on a teaser” to be used as a “pitch video” for a studio in Nashville, TN, where the program is envisioned to launch sometime in January if approved.
The snippet shows Tennessee Atty. Van Irion describing his fear that constitutional rights were obliterated following the August 19 sentencing hearing of his client, CDR Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III (Ret.) for convictions of “aggravated perjury” and “extortion.” In March, Fitzpatrick had submitted an evidence packet detailing criminal behavior on the part of public officials to the McMinn County, TN grand jury and was subsequently arrested and charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor while sitting on a bench outside the courtroom reading a book.
The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights provides for citizens to be able to petition their government for redress of grievances, and the Fifth Amendment states that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury…”
In 2009, Fitzpatrick discovered corruption of the Monroe County, TN grand jury resulting from a judicially-appointed foreman working in the court-created position for 28 consecutive years and regularly voting with the other members of the grand jury. Tennessee law is silent on any special position of the grand jury foreman but states that “A juror who has completed a jury service term shall not be summoned to serve another jury service term in any court of this state for a period of twenty-four (24) months following the last day of such service; however, the county legislative body of any county, may, by majority vote, extend the twenty-four-month period.”
Courts in various counties and at different times have referred to the foreman as “a juror.” Last September, the Tennessee Attorney General’s office wrote a brief in which it stated that “The foreperson is appointed by the trial court.”
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who presided over Fitzpatrick’s trial and pronounced the sentence, has appointed many longstanding grand jury foremen but has also said that the foreman is “no different than any other member of the grand jury.”
Fitzpatrick reads the law as requiring 13 members, all of whom are randomly-selected, to populate a grand jury, one of whom becomes the foreman. However, criminal court judges have been selecting the foreman “from wherever they choose” as reported by Monroe County head clerk Martha M. Cook in a local newspaper in January 2011 which was recently removed from the internet. Fitzpatrick’s conclusions are based on a statute governing investigative grand juries which clearly states that 13 members are required and is cited by at least one source as being definitive for grand juries in the State of Tennessee.
The final clause of the statute states that “Any grand jury ordered convened pursuant to this part shall be:…
(3) Retain all powers, duties and responsibilities of the regular grand jury. [sic]
Appointing orders for grand jury foremen signed in 1983 by Judge Herman Riviere referred to the person appointed as “good and lawful,” “more than twenty-five years of age,” and “possessing the qualifications of a juror under the laws of this State.”
However, those signed by Blackwood and other judges, including Amy Reedy, Carroll Lee Ross, and R. Steven Bebb, do not include that language, simply stating that the foreman is “well qualified for said position.”
Rule 6(a)(1) of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure states:
“Formation at a Regular Term. On the first day of each term of court at which a grand jury is required to be impaneled, the judge of the court authorized by law to charge the grand jury and to receive its report shall direct the names of all the qualified jurors in attendance for the criminal courts of the county to be written on separate slips of paper and placed in a box or other suitable receptacle and drawn out by the judge in open court. The foreperson and the twelve qualified jurors whose names are first drawn constitute the grand jury for the term and shall attend the court until dismissed by the judge or until the next term.
Rule 6(g)(2) states that “The foreperson shall possess all the qualifications of a juror.”
Rule 6(a)(4) governing the oath of office which grand jurors take reads:
You as members of the grand jury do solemnly swear (or affirm) that you will diligently inquire, and true presentment make, of all offenses given you in charge, or otherwise brought to your knowledge, committed or triable within this county; that you will keep secret the state’s counsel, the other jurors’ and your own; that you will present no person from hatred, malice, or ill will, nor leave any unpresented through fear, favor, or affection, or for any reward, or the promise or hope thereof, but that you will present the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, according to the best of your skill and understanding. So help you God.
The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference describes a grand jury as “a group of thirteen citizens chosen from the jury panel. One of these thirteen is the fore person and will preside over the grand jury.”
However, Fitzpatrick was charged with four crimes after submitting several petitions to the grand jury which then-foreman Jeffrey Cunningham interpreted as threatening to his career as an attorney and President & CEO of Athens Federal Community Bank, as stated on June 23 during his sworn testimony.
On March 18, without a police report, the grand jury criminalized Fitzpatrick’s submissions, issued its indictment, and Fitzpatrick was arrested. He made bond ten days later and remained free until August 19, when he was taken into the custody of the McMinn County Sheriff’s Department.
Fitzpatrick’s sentence was declared by Blackwood at three years, 30% of which must be served while incarcerated. During the sentencing, Blackwood called Fitzpatrick “a moral coward” for allegedly making false statements about him. Blackwood was also reported to have said, “I’m sick and tired of all these people who want to talk about their constitutional rights.”
Blackwood was quoted as asking rhetorically, “Who cares if the grand jury foreman is serving illegally? So what?”
On Saturday and Sunday, respectively, The Post & Email published an interview with another Tennessee resident who told us that he had observed that in Lawrence County, should a citizen bring a petition to the grand jury on his own, “they make up charges against you.”
On Tuesday, Fitzpatrick was transferred to the Bledsoe County Correctional Center (BCCX), although his registration does not yet appear on the prison’s website.
In the video, McConnell stands directly to Irion’s left following the sentencing while Irion vehemently says, “…this is going to serve as a chilling effect…I’m scared to go into this building and petition this grand jury for redress of grievances. I’m scared, as a patent attorney, to go before this grand jury and tell them that a person in this community, I believe, has committed multiple crimes, because that person has political power in this community stronger than I do, and I’m afraid that I’ll be arrested just like Commander Fitzpatrick was based on what happened in this case…I’m telling you: I’m scared to go before this grand jury…because I might be charged with extortion…”
McConnell is a former Marine pilot who also flew commercially for 23 years with a perfect record. He co-hosts the Abel Danger radio show three times weekly and is working to open a rest and relaxation resort for veterans who have suffered a traumatic event.
On August 12, Fain joined with The Post & Email and McConnell to document the events of August 18, which included a prayer breakfast and barbecue for Fitzpatrick prior to his sentencing. Fain has chronicled family court cases, including revelations made about the child protective service industry by the late Georgia State Senator Nancy Schaefer.
Fain plans to produce a 45-minute video on the Fitzpatrick case which may become a documentary if enough financial support for it can be garnered.