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“IT WAS JUST GOD THAT INTERVENED”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Dec. 15, 2014) — A sentencing hearing was held at 12:00 noon on Monday at the Monroe County, TN courthouse for George Joseph Raudenbush, III after an initial report that the hearing had been advanced to 9:00 a.m. without notice.
Before the opening of business on Monday, Raudenbush told The Post & Email that the online court schedule reflected a last-minute change of time in his hearing. We then contacted Monroe County Chief Court Clerk Martha M. Cook, who told us in an email response just before 9:00 a.m. that she “had just learned” that the hearing was scheduled for noon.
Raudenbush had known of the hearing for several weeks after Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood declared upon his convictions on November 25, “Are you ready for sentencing? I want this done before Christmas!”
Blackwood does not reside in Monroe County or the immediate environs and must travel a considerable distance to perform his duties there.
Prior to Monday, Raudenbush, who is a Christian missionary, had asked supporters and followers of his case to “pray for the judge.”
On November 24 and 25, Raudenbush was retried on seven counts stemming from an altercation with Tellico Plains lieutenant Brian Millsaps on December 30, 2010. Raudenbush reported that Millsaps had “tried to kill him” by wielding a flashlight, breaking the driver’s side door of the vehicle Raudenbush was driving, then striking him on the head and hand after he tried to locate his insurance documents upon Millsaps’ request. Raudenbush also told The Post & Email that Millsaps reached for and had begun to withdraw his gun from its holster when Raudenbush drove away in a “fight or flight” mode to call 911.
Blackwood did not allow the 911 recordings to be played during the trial. Despite the Fifth Amendment‘s provision prohibiting “double jeopardy,” Raudenbush was tried on essentially the same charges as he was in August 2011, when he was denied his constitutional right to an attorney by now-retired Judge Carroll Lee Ross.
As part of Tennessee’s Tenth Judicial District, Monroe County is known for its methamphetamine production and sale; police brutality; prisoners-for-profit operation in which members of the community become prey for the sheriff, his deputies, local police, court clerks, judges, prosecutors and jurors; and its confiscation of land and other property to continue the movement of considerable sums of money through the county in furtherance of the drug trade.
For the last five years, The Post & Email has exposed the criminality of the grand jury system in Tennessee, which allows the criminal court judge to choose the grand jury foreman and have him or her serve for as long as the judge desires. Some grand jury foremen have served for decades and cast deciding votes in whether or not to indict an individual.
Blackwood is among those judges who have appointed the same foreman for multiple consecutive years, the records from which The Post & Email possesses in some cases. In one county, the current clerk told the requester of the records that Blackwood’s files were in such disarray that no appointing orders for grand jury foremen during the years specified could be located.
Jury members other than the foreman have also served in violation of state law, with Blackwood stating that “the indictment cures” any problem with an illegally-constructed grand jury and that there was “no evidence” that an identical name from one jury term to the next referred to the same person.
At an August 19 sentencing hearing for a McMinn County man, Blackwood disparaged people “talking about their constitutional rights” and rhetorically asked, “So what if the grand jury foreman is serving illegally?”
Countless cases have been prosecuted against citizens wherein the state also presented itself as the accuser without a police report. Court transcripts have been altered, disappeared, or illegally denied to defendants.
Federal grand juries do not have a standing foreman; rather, the foreman volunteers or is chosen from those empaneled and finishes his service at the same time as the others.
Directly after his last trial, Raudenbush asked his public defender to withdraw from the case on the grounds that he could not properly represent him given Raudenbush’s multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed against the State of Tennessee alleging police brutality on Millsaps’ part.
Millsaps accused Raudenbush of assaulting him and driving without a seatbelt and other vehicular infractions, which resulted in seven charges from a tainted Monroe County grand jury.
During Monday’s hearing, Blackwood gave Raudenbush the choice of retaining the public defender or representing himself, of which he chose the former. Raudenbush explained:
I told him, “I’m forced to keep the counsel that I have.” After that, the judge was very upset with me for wasting the court’s time. This was amazing…he said, “I really can’t give you any more [jail] time; you’ve served the maximum time.” So I said, “Wow!” I wasn’t expecting that from him. He reiterated that twice. I had a whole bunch of people there to give character testimony…the attorney looked at me and said, “The judge has made it clear: he’s not going to sentence you to prison or jail; he just told you he can’t give you any time because you’ve put enough time in…he said he’s just letting it go. It’s up to you; it’s your call; do you want to put these witnesses on?” So I said, “No. If the judge is going to do that, then we won’t put the witnesses on.”
So he went up there and said, “No, we’re going to rest, Your Honor.” That was Mr. Shahan. When the judge gave his sentencing verdict, he said, “There’s no jail time; it’s time served,” and he waived all of the thousands of dollars in fines, and he waived the court costs as well. I report to Probation, and they’re calculating out my time to determine if any probation is required.
Both [Public Defenders] Mr. Hughes and Mr. Shahan were there today. We’re filing a motion for a new trial, which would void the conviction altogether.
When The Post & Email asked Raudenbush why he thought Blackwood nullified the fines, court costs and declined to have him incarcerated, he responded:
I think what we heard today from Judge Blackwood was the fact that the main issue was the $10,000,000 lawsuit that we have against the county and the sheriff. Judge Blackwood was very adamant about that, that because of this conviction, I would not be collecting the $10,000,000. He said if I appealed it, I might collect some money. It was very clear that everything was about the money and the lawsuit filed for wrongful arrest and police brutality.
The decision he made today doesn’t match up with his behavior prior to sentencing. It just doesn’t. The only explanation that I believe to be true is that God intervened in this whole situation. Judge Blackwood definitely had the ability to send me off to prison if he wanted to.
I think the issue is very clear: they wanted a conviction, and they got a conviction. I’m now a convicted violent offender, according to the conviction, and that’s what they wanted to discredit my testimony in the lawsuit.
As far as the sentencing, everything Blackwood did with the sentencing and court costs was right in line…
The Post & Email finished the sentence: “…with what one would expect from, perhaps, a lawful court?”
Right, absolutely (laughs). We’re not used to that down here!
In closing, Raudenbush told us:
I think the prayers of hundreds of people specifically praying for the judge was what turned this whole sentencing around. It’s a “180” from what the judge was doing before. It’s just amazing. It’s nothing that I did. I had to make some decisions. Of course, I had Mr. Shahan, and Mr. Hughes was there, and they actually appeared to be thinking of different ways to reduce the sentence. The judge surprised all of us: the attorneys were surprised; the prosecutor was a little confused —
Who was the prosecutor?
It was Paul Rush.
Oh. Rush accused The Post & Email of lacking in “integrity” and “ethics” several years ago.
(Laughs) That’s normal coming from a prosecutor.
He himself was reprimanded by the Board of Professional Responsibility last year.
I shook his hand afterward, and he could have pressed harder, but he did not. It seemed as if there was a “180” with the judge, and with Paul Rush, he wasn’t really pressing any issues. It was just God that intervened, because usually, the judge is aggressive; the prosecutor is aggressive, and we didn’t see that today.
They basically got what they wanted; they got a conviction. There’s no sense to keep beating a dead horse when you’ve already killed the horse.
We specifically asked people to pray for the judge. I was very happy with the judge’s decision; I was very happy with the prosecutor because he has a job to do. He could have pressed the issue and he didn’t. He could have asked for a lot of things and he didn’t. Everything happened in about ten minutes. The whole hearing went smoothly; everybody was working together, and it just went very well.