Roane County, TN Defendant Assigned Fifth Defense Attorney in Three-Year-Old Extortion Case

“I DID NOT ASK HIM TO QUIT, YOUR HONOR”

by Sharon Rondeau

Judge Jeffrey Wicks is presiding over a case now in its fourth year against Roane County, TN citizen Roy Cook

(Oct. 28, 2016) — A hearing last Friday in a Roane County, TN courtroom resulted in the assignment of a fifth defense attorney to Roy Cook, whose “extortion” case has spanned three and one-half years without a trial.

The Post & Email began covering the case in June of last year, when Cook informed us that his first attorney, Public Defender Walter C. Johnson, had “done nothing for 14 months” to develop his defense.  Cook has insisted since the inception of the case that he is innocent of the extortion charge.

The accuser is Cook’s his twin brother, Andrew Cook, who alleged that Roy attempted to extort $30,000 from him in exchange for the return of computer circuit boards belonging to Andrew’s business.

The case began on April 24, 2013, when Roy Cook was served a search warrant by then-Ninth Judicial District investigator Jeff Vittatoe.  Cook’s computers and cell phones were seized and held for 20 months, resulting in the issuing of an unsigned forensics “report” earlier this year showing no relevant evidence.  “Shane Harrold, who conducted the forensic analysis, told a different story to me when it was discovered the last week of May 2016,” Cook told The Post & Email in an interview following last week’s hearing.

The Roane County grand jury, whose foreman, Charles C. Snow, has now been serving close to a quarter-century, indicted Roy Cook in October 2013 after Andrew presented the case to them in person and six months after Roy Cook’s computers and phones were seized.

According to Tennessee law, any citizen with evidence of a crime can testify to a grand jury upon penalty of perjury should he or she knowingly present false evidence.

Citing other irregularities such as a partially-whited-out email in the evidence packet which the prosecution will not explain, Roy Cook has asked each of his previous four attorneys to file a Motion to Dismiss based on the prosecution’s failure to produce all of the evidence.  None ultimately complied with his request.

Cook’s previous attorneys are:

1.  Ninth Judicial District Public Defender Walter C. Johnson;
2.  Private attorney Joshua Hedrick;
3.  Private attorney Alan Moore; and
4.  Private attorney Jedidiah McKeehan.

Johnson was not willing to speak with The Post & Email after he withdrew as Cook’s defense counsel, nor has Edwards returned our phone calls or emails requesting comment on the progress of the case.

In August, Cook filed complaints against Johnson, Hedrick, and Ninth Judicial District assistant prosecutor Robert Edwards with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (BOPR), alleging professional misconduct to include breach of attorney-client privilege on Hedrick’s part and withholding evidence on Edwards’s part.  As of this writing, Cook has received no disposition on any of the three complaints.

In a new revelation emerging from last Friday’s hearing, Roy Cook said, “It is worth noting that the attorney general can dismiss any indictment, and it was just recently discovered that he did dismiss the indictment against my late brother, Thomas Cook, who was also indicted in the case.”

The chief prosecutor for Tennessee’s Ninth Judicial District is Russell Johnson, who Roy Cook believes is continuing the prosecution of his case for political reasons

Deputy District Attorney Robert Edwards, who works under the supervision of Ninth Judicial District DA Russell Johnson, is prosecuting the case. Roy Cook maintains that Edwards has not only withheld, but also failed to subpoena all relevant evidence which he believes would exonerate him and that the case has been prosecuted because of an alleged personal vendetta against him on Russell Johnson’s part.

Judge Jeffrey Wicks has been presiding since the retirement last December of Judge Eugene V. Eblen, a five-decade jurist.

Thomas Cook and Roy Cook were living together at the time the computers were seized.  Of the dismissal of the indictment against his brother Thomas, Roy Cook said, “This is more evidence of DA Russell Johnson’s personal agenda against me. Why dismiss against Thomas, but not me, when the month before there was a forensic examination of all computers seized from my home and, according to the DA, nothing was found to corroborate the plaintiff’s emails or phone records?” Cook asked.

Roy Cook further expounded on some of the history of the case:

Instead of faxing the subpoenaed report to the Court Clerk as required, he gave it to Lt. Dan Schneider of the Harriman Police Department to give to DA Edwards.  DA Edwards then held on to it and only turned it over to my fourth attorney on September 16, 2016 with the unbelievable excuse that he had heard the analysis was either not done or done and nothing found.  Either excuse is unacceptable, as the fact that nothing was found is exculpatory and discredits the plaintiff’s assertion that the emails he supplied as evidence are authentic.  The DA had a duty to investigate the alleged crime, and it’s only reasonable that the forensic analysis be done.  I believe the DA tried to conceal the forensic analysis and that there was evidence of my innocence found.

Included in the evidence withheld are the Vonage call logs supplied to the DA by the plaintiff himself. As stated in prior articles, the existence of such logs is verified by the Investigative Discovery, Affidavit for Search Warrant, and the plaintiff’s own postings on an Internet website. New discovery supplied by the DA’s office shows that Andrew accused me of making harassing phone calls to him in February 2015, but the call logs he supplied in that instance are much different than those supplied to the DA in 2013. The 2013 logs were put together by the plaintiff himself, and the original records he used to assemble them are the very Vonage logs I am requesting and which are mentioned in the evidence.

Multiple emails which The Post & Email has seen were exchanged between Cook and his first two attorneys, respectively, Walter Johnson and Joshua Hedrick, inquiring about the forensic analysis. “Walter Johnson failed to respond to emails and would not even file a motion or make a phone call to find it,” Roy Cook told The Post & Email. “It a February 2016 email, Hedrick stated, “As for the computers, they have not accessed them. I know this because they have not provided me with any information taken from them.'”

At this time, it is unclear whether or not Hedrick inquired about the analysis. Roy Cook had questioned it because Investigator Vittatoe had written a note on the Evidence Room Receipt Log stating that “Items highlighted have been released (5-21-13) to Lt. Dan Schneider for forensic analysis.”

A Shane Harold of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department reportedly performed the forensic analysis on Roy Cook’s computers and phones, but an unsigned, inconclusive report was the sole product of the probe from the 20 months the equipment was held.  However, the existence of the forensics report, such as it was, did not emerge in court hearings in 2013 and 2014.  “All it took to discover the existence of Shane Harold and the forensic analysis was a phone call to Schneider, which led to Harold,” Roy Cook said. “Why didn’t any of my attorneys make that simple phone call?”

“What makes it look even shadier is Harold’s statement following the purported forensic analysis,” Cook said. “He claimed he returned the items to Schneider around the end of 2013. If that is true, then why did the DA not return them until a year later, in December 2014? Another issue is the evidence log. It makes it appear that none of the items left the evidence room.”

Roy Cook said he believes that someone “doctored” the evidence log in order to hide the results of the forensic analysis. “Shane Harold can remember some things, but not others. For example, he claims he can’t remember a 62-minute telephone conversation he had with Andrew (Cook), as is shown by the phone logs already collected.” he said.

Regarding the whited-out email, Roy Cook commented, “This is especially important to revisit because at that hearing on November 16, 2015, DA Edwards said it didn’t matter if that name was someone from the FBI or another law enforcement agency. At that point I asked Hedrick if he told Edwards about the discovery of the FBI agent to whom I allege the plaintiff made contradictory statements.  He said ‘No” and dropped it.  However, in the email from DA Edwards to Vittatoe dated four days before the hearing, Edwards wrote, ‘Morning Jeff, I think we told Roy Cook’s lawyer that we would look back for old emails concerning the Roy Cook case and forward them to him.  The issue was Cook’s insistence that we had redacted the name of an FBI agent from a copy of an email previously furnished to the defense.'”

“Nobody knew of the FBI agent’s existence except Hedrick and me,” Cook said. “However, this email clearly reveals that Hedrick had a conversation with both Edwards and Vittatoe in which he revealed the existence of the FBI agent. What is even more disturbing is the multiple emails from 2015 through January 2016 where Hedrick kept promising to subpoena the records from the FBI, and then in February, changed his mind.”

Roy Cook then raised an ethics question regarding Edwards.  “According to Rule 8.3a of the American Bar Association, Edwards should have reported Hedrick to the Board of Professional Responsibility.” The rule reads:

A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate professional authority.”

Cook’s fourth attorney, Jedidiah McKeehan, who asked to withdraw from the case during Friday’s hearing, at first agreed to file a Motion to Dismiss but on a different basis than that which his client favored.  Cook said that last week, McKeehan had emailed him a proposed Motion to Dismiss.  “The motion to dismiss was based on the ‘affirmative defense‘ concept, which meant that there was no crime.  I had no problem with his arguing that, but I  told him, ‘We also need to argue grounds for dismissal based on prosecutorial misconduct,’ Cook told us.  “I originally had this exchange with Hedrick in April, before I had discovered the forensic analysis.”

McKeehan’s representation of Cook lasted just over three months.

Speaking of last week’s hearing, Roy Cook told The Post & Email:

The judge was quite short with me and very upset, and I now have attorney #5.  He told me my four prior attorneys were very capable, and when I tried to tell him about the issues I had with them, he did not wish to hear it. I even offered to let him see the emails to prove that Walter Johnson did nothing for the 14 months he represented me and the emails that now prove Hedrick violated attorney/client privilege on at least two occasions.  One of the new emails from DA Edwards to Vittatoe dated 11/12/16 reveals Edwards knew of the existence of an FBI agent briefed on the accusation even before the 11/16/16 hearing where Judge Eblen ordered the DA to turn over the non-redacted email.

When the judge informed Cook on Friday that McKeehan had asked to withdraw, Cook said he told the judge, “I did not ask him to quit, Your Honor.  I have no problem with Mr. McKeehan; we have a disagreement on what should be argued, and I said, ‘I have a solution to the problem and a compromise that could be worked out,’ but Mr. McKeehan would not call me or communicate with me. My compromise is that I want the Motion to Dismiss to argue prosecutorial misconduct and concealing evidence.  There’s case law; I’ve discovered it.”

Cook also revealed that Edwards told the judge that the case was being reported “on the internet” and that he has received calls “from someone claiming to be a journalist.”

Edwards is well aware of this writer, as in July 2015, after The Post & Email came into possession of evidence believed to be germane to the case, we provided it to him, at which point Edwards said he would schedule a telephone interview.  The Post & Email’s follow-up phone call to Edwards the following week went unanswered, and the phone conference never occurred.  Subsequent emails and phone calls requesting information from the prosecution’s point of view received no response.

 

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