CONFLICTS OF INTEREST IGNORED IN CASE OF MAN SENTENCED TWICE TO PRISON
by Sharon Rondeau
It was not Timothy Baxter’s first incarceration. In 2001, he was arrested for allegedly failing to appear for a hearing of which he said he was never properly notified. While held in the Madison County jail, Tim was assaulted, Lee Baxter and his son told us.
Convicted of operating a methamphetamine lab, a claim Tim has denied and about which both men said there was “no evidence,” Tim spent approximately nine years in prison, during which he reported having been assaulted days before his scheduled release by two correction officers while a third looked on and did nothing. In a telephone call to The Post & Email from prison in 2015, Timothy Baxter reported migraine headaches and vision loss following the attack in which he said he was struck on the back of the head with a radio by the officers.
He added that he suffers from nerve pain from handcuffs which were placed too tightly on his wrists for protracted periods and that his left arm is virtually “useless.”
On Monday Lee Baxter stressed that Tim’s 2011 trial was compromised by jurors acquainted with their family and that Tim’s and his own objections at the time were ignored. Lee has since been attempting to obtain justice for his son, who will be 40 in May.
During our recent interview, Lee Baxter compared the recent clemency declaration by former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam for Cyntoia Brown, who was sentenced to “life” in prison after she killed a man when she was 16 years old, to his son’s current incarceration. Brown, then 16, was reportedly trafficked and allegedly feared for her life when she killed the 43-year-old man who had most recently exploited her. In the last days of his administration earlier this month, Haslam issued a commutation of Brown’s sentence, a case which had gained national media attention.
“My son has done nothing like that,” Baxter told us. “He’s served seven years for pushing a man down who was rushing at him to slap him in the face.”
Both of Baxter’s cases arose in Madison County, TN, which is part of the state’s 26th Judicial District. The accuser in the second case was one Richard Upright, who claimed he experienced “extreme pain” and injuries after the December 8, 2010 altercation with Baxter arising from “road rage.”
At the probable cause hearing, Upright was not able to definitively identify Baxter as the perpetrator, according to the transcript.
Upright did not initially attend the trial, but rather, had to be sought out by sheriff’s deputies once court was convened. Upright’s medical records were not presented in court, and no medical expert was called upon to substantiate his claim of “serious bodily injury,” court transcripts show. At one point Upright said he drove a truck for a living and had missed two months of work, but during his initial medical exam following the incident, he claimed to be “retired,” according to records The Post & Email has reviewed.
“I don’t know how he’s made it this long,” Baxter told us of his son on Monday. “He’s at a point where he says, ‘Dad, I just give up.'”
Lee has been unsuccessful in obtaining the audio-recordings of his son’s trials, and an attempt made by this publication more than three years ago resulted in the transcriptionist rudely hanging up on us and the court denying it had possession of the audio in question.
Lee has also been unable to obtain complete transcripts of his son’s hearings from the Madison County court clerk, Kathy Blount, who Tim Baxter claims did not follow proper procedure in notifying him of a hearing in 2011. Lee faults Judge Roy B. Morgan, who presided over both cases and who Lee describes as “corrupt” for failing to recuse himself and appearing friendly with the jurors in the first case.
According to the Tennessee Public Records Act, as state residents, Lee and Tim’s mother, both of whom submitted requests for their son’s court records, should have been provided the documents.
“These judges hate your son,” Baxter said he was told by a prospective attorney after Tim was arrested following the altercation with Upright.
Baxter said that a juror who served in the 2011 trial had a personal connection with the family and should by law have been disqualified, a fact he has highlighted in his outreach to state legislators, District Attorney General Jody Pickens, and Mehr.
Lee believes his son was “sent back” to prison as a result of the lawsuit he filed against the TDOC for the 2009 prison assault.
Timothy Baxter is currently housed at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC), identified by some as the state’s “worst” prison. Owned and operated by the private corporation CoreCivic, the facility has been fined more than $2.5 million between 2017 and 2018 for policy infractions, The Hartsville Vidette reported. Departures from standard protocols were identified shortly after the institution opened in January 2016, the Associated Press reported in May that year.
A jury in the federal lawsuit Baxter filed as a result of the 2009 assault found in favor of the defendants in late June 2015. Lee Baxter attended the trial and said his son appeared so ill while he was testifying that at times he was forced to leave the room. The alleged perpetrators of the TDOC assault on Baxter, two brothers by the last name of Moffatt, were eventually terminated from their positions after claims similar to Baxter’s emerged.
In October 2015, Timothy Baxter received what he and his family claimed would be life-saving surgery at the DeBerry Special Needs Facility in Nashville stemming from a staph infection which reportedly went untreated for a period of time.
In newer developments, Lee told us he conferred with a private investigator with the purpose of legally obtaining a copy of the audio-recording from his son’s 2011 trial. The private investigator unsuccessfully attempted to find an attorney to assist, Baxter said, and the investigator came away from the courthouse empty-handed.
In September 2016, Baxter said, he and Tim’s mother met with the District Attorney General for the 26th District in Jackson, Jody Pickens, about Tim’s 2011 trial. “I met with him and two of his generals. I explained to him the juror corruption and how there were two jurors who shouldn’t have been on the bench. One who shouldn’t have been on there was removed after a short recess, and the other has a background with my family and me but was allowed to serve anyway,” Baxter said he told Pickens.
He also told Pickens that the “short recess” entailed the juror having met with the judge and the attorneys in his chambers, a claim Pickens reportedly appeared not to believe. “In all my time as a district attorney, I’ve never seen this happen,” Baxter quoted Pickens as having said.
Further to the meeting with Pickens, Baxter continued:
He said, “Why didn’t Tim object to these jurors?” and I said, “He did. I don’t know how they got on there.” Then I told him about the connection between the juror and me. Then he said, “Well, why didn’t you speak up?” and I said, “I did at the trial. I went to the defense attorney and said, “Look, this person should not be on this jury.” So Pickens said, “What did his defense attorney tell you?” and I said, “He said he thought it would be ‘positive’ for Tim.” But either way, it’s not supposed to happen.
I even tried to bring this up at Tim’s post-conviction hearing. His attorney was Josh Dugan. I had a conference with Josh right after he was appointed. I advised him of the juror corruption and that I wanted to testify at the post-conviction hearing. I was ignored. The day of the hearing came up, and I attended, but this was never mentioned. We left there with the D.A. saying he would look into it. We went a year and hadn’t heard a word from him, so I went to the Madison County Sheriff, John Mehr. He was not sheriff when all of this happened to Tim; the sheriff was David Woolfork, who is corrupt. One of the investigators, Terry Stewart, was also in on the fatal shooting of a teenager in Jackson. Terry Stewart signed Tim’s grand jury indictment, both as a witness and as a prosecutor.
[Editor’s Note: In June 2014, a Madison County jury found Woolfork “not guilty” on charges of “attempted aggravated sexual battery,” according to The Jackson Press. Woolfork had retired in February of that year.]
John Mehr said the case was closed and I couldn’t do anything about it. I told him about Judge Roy Morgan, who is corrupt. Mehr said I could go to the Board of Professional Responsibility (BOPR), and I said, “I’ve already done that this past year, and they sent me back a form letter saying that apparently, I was dissatisfied with the ‘outcome’ of a decision.”
With that complaint to the BOPR, I had included a signed, notarized affidavit as a witness to the juror corruption. Mehr also said I could go to the state attorney general’s office, who I’ve called and left messages and emailed and never had any response from them.
At the time I went to see Sheriff Mehr, I did not know Tim was coming up for parole soon, something Mehr suggested could happen soon given the time he’d already served. I hadn’t heard anything from Tim about it, but I was able to verify that in fact, he was coming up for parole. I wasn’t able to attend the hearing, but his mother said it went well. She thought Tim could be out by Thanksgiving last year, but he was denied. His mother told me that parole was denied because of a 15-month-old write-up that had not been resolved that was not brought up at the parole hearing.
It was a devastating blow, but all I know to do is to keep on fighting.
In December I talked with my state representative, Jay Reedy, and told him a little about the case. I told him that I want a conference with the governor and to testify to a grand jury. I want someone to be aware of this malfeasance. He told me he would do what he could. He got back with me and said his lawyers got in touch with the warden and there’s pending legislation and he couldn’t do anything right now. He told me to get in touch with (newly-elected) Chris Todd. I called his office, and his secretary gave me the run-around and said he’d call me back, and of course there’s been no response.
According to Timothy Baxter’s TDOC entry (pictured above), Baxter will have another parole hearing in August of this year.
Over the last 9+ years, The Post & Email has reported, with supporting documentation, that Tennessee grand juries are compromised by “hand-picked” foremen and that jurors often serve consecutive terms in violation of TCA 22-2-314. Lee Baxter told us that at Tim’s second trial, he overheard Morgan asking some of the jurors if he recalled seeing them at another trial “a couple of weeks ago.”
On December 13, 2018, Timothy Baxter filed a petition for a “Statutory Writ of Certioriari” to the Tennessee Supreme Court alleging that the Court of Criminal Appeals failed to address the fact that Upright’s medical records were not admitted at trial, “allowing the State to skirt the mandate” that the records be produced.