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RUTHERFORD COUNTY, TN GRAND JURY ABSENT DURING “MEETING”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jul. 20, 2019) — On Monday, The Post & Email published an article based on documents received from a former U.S. Marine incarcerated in the Rutherford County, TN jail awaiting trial on a number of charges which he maintains are false. His larger purpose in contacting us was to expose what he says is “corruption” in the criminal court system to include the county grand jury foreman, who has been in place for almost two decades.
Numerous copies of indictments included in the mailing are dated between 2001 and this year and bear the signature of grand jury foreman Karen Hudson.
James M. Parker said he is willing to face accountability for the transgression(s) he committed in 2017 but not for those he says he did not commit. Further, he told The Post & Email that when he was arrested, he was not a convicted felon in possession of a handgun, as is alleged on a subpoena, the indictment and bench warrant and which is enhancing the charges against him.
“Rutherford County has found a way to generate revenue by obtaining unlawful indictments,” Parker wrote in his letter accompanying the enclosures last month. “Karen Hudson’s job for either the city or the county is their media consultant. She is clearly not a qualified jury foreperson due to her attachment to the city/county. By her being a voting member of the grand jury and presence during deliberation, clearly violates my constitutional rights to an impartial jury, whether petit or grand jury…” [sic]
Included in his mailing was a copy of the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts’ publication of “Rule 6: The Grand Jury” contained within the Rules of Criminal Procedure.
For nearly a decade, The Post & Email has reported the “handpicking” of grand jury foremen in the state of Tennessee in violation of TCA 22-2-314, which states that no juror may serve a second term until two years have elapsed between jury sessions. Rather than choosing the foreman from the jury pool, or “venire,” as was done in 1883, county criminal court judges choose the individual from the community at large with no known vetting process.
The Shelby County district attorney general’s office states that the grand jury foreman is “hired by the Criminal Court judges.”
Davidson County, TN reportedly instituted a criminal background check for all prospective jurors, including the grand jury foreman, after handpicked grand jury foreman Eugene Grayer was found to have been a convicted felon and serving in violation of the law.
The grand jury’s function within the criminal justice system is mentioned only in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In 2016, then-Tennessee state inmate Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III reported that in Shelby County, which encompasses the city of Memphis, not only is a grand jury foreman handpicked, but also a second individual who serves as “grand jury foreman pro tempore,” a position not found in any Tennessee statute.
“They’re running their own government,” Fitzpatrick told us on numerous occasions of Tennessee’s criminal courts.
A federal civil-rights lawsuit claims that citizens of Shelby County are unlawfully incarcerated without grand-jury indictment utilizing a “routine ‘rubber stamp’ policy and procedure.”
In December 2014, the chief prosecutor in the district where Fitzpatrick first discovered the “handpicking” of the grand jury foreman said on a radio show, “We do not try to influence them in any way,” referring to members of the grand jury. District Attorney General Stephen Crump did not respond to phone calls and a letter from this publication to explain why judges are permitted to hand-select the foreman in the Tenth Judicial District.
In 2010, while in the Monroe County jail, Fitzpatrick related an account from a defendant that then-grand jury foreman Gary Pettway, who had been serving for more than 20 years, attempted “to extract a confession from a man named Bubba Cozart,” the aforesaid defendant. “At the time, Bubba Cozart was accused of a burglary of a local fast food chain called SONIC,” Fitzpatrick said. “Mr. Pettway, the grand jury foreman, came into the jailhouse, the booking room, and Mr. Cozart was brought to the booking room by deputy sheriffs. There were deputy sheriffs in the room at the time who observed and witnessed Mr. Pettway’s attempt as the foreman of the grand jury to extract a confession from Mr. Cozart regarding the robbery of the SONIC restaurant.”
Fitzpatrick and others have reported jurors serving consecutive terms. In Fitzpatrick’s Monroe County case, grand juror Angela Davis served on the grand jury after having served on a jury during the preceding six-month term. “Because personal information is collected by the outlawed county criminal courts in Tennessee, it should be a simple process to check if a juror has been selected in error within the 24-month time frame during which they cannot serve after having done so on either a grand jury or petit jury in the state,” The Post & Email reported in July 2012.
In May 2012, Fitzpatrick discovered a set of laws passed in 1984 by the Tennessee legislature mandating that most counties abandon their own criminal court proceedings and join with designated counties to form judicial districts. While 31 such districts now exist in Tennessee, individual counties, and not the multiple-county districts, continue to impanel grand juries and trial juries.
In perusing the Rutherford County website, The Post & Email discovered that the detention center utilizes “Jail Mail” through which we contacted Parker on Monday to acknowledge receipt of his documentation. In a response received later that day, Parker wrote, “Hello, and thank you for responding. I currently am awaiting trial here in Murfreesboro, TN. There have been even more developments since our letter to you. We fully believe now, that there are NO Grand Jury proceedings. ‘rubberstamping.’ We had people try and testify and actually veiw the grand jury in person. They were never seen. One actually just barged into the court room were they were ‘allegedly’ meeting…..there were only 5 prosecutors in the room….NO grand jury…” [sic]
According to Parker and his wife, with whom we spoke on Friday, he suffers from diagnosed PTSD as a result of his military service. Parker’s wife told us that before he was incarcerated, her husband was receiving military disability payments and is considered 80% disabled.
The U.S. Veterans Administration’s National Center for PTSD defines the disorder as “a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault. It’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after this type of event. If symptoms last more than a few months, it may be PTSD. The good news is that there are effective treatments.”
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines PTSD as “a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.”
Further, the APA states, “People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Not every traumatized person develops ongoing (chronic) or even short-term (acute) PTSD. Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some experiences, like the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, can also cause PTSD. Symptoms usually begin early, within 3 months of the traumatic incident, but sometimes they begin years afterward. Symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work to be considered PTSD. The course of the illness varies. Some people recover within 6 months, while others have symptoms that last much longer. In some people, the condition becomes chronic.”
A federal determination of disability does not carry over to individual states, Parker’s wife explained, and the “Veterans Treatment Court” did not accept Parker into its diversion program, she said. “We have no course of action at this point. If he wanted to plead ‘temporary insanity,’ he would have to have an evaluation by the state. There is a 9-to-12-month waiting period to get into a state facility for evaluation,” she said.
Mrs. Parker said that when her husband was discharged from the Marine Corps in 2012, he was “in a downward spiral” and consumed excessive alcohol. They were not married at the time, she said, although she has known Parker for more than 20 years.
Parker was arrested for alleged domestic violence in Colorado, Mrs. Parker said, prior to their marriage, and was serving time there when he requested extradition to Tennessee through “IAD,” which is short for “Interstate Agreement on Detainers.”
The Agreement applies to transfers of sentenced prisoners for unrelated trials between two States, and to transfers from the Federal Government to the States, and from the States to the Federal Government. It does not apply to transfers of Federal prisoners between the several judicial districts for trial on Federal charges. See United States v. Stoner, 799 F.2d 1253
Article III of the Agreement permits a prisoner to initiate final disposition of any untried indictment, information, or complaint against him/her in another State on the basis of which a detainer has been lodged against him/her. Article IV permits the prosecuting authority of a State in which an untried indictment, information, or complaint is pending to obtain temporary custody of a prisoner against whom it has lodged a detainer by filing a “written request” for custody with the incarcerating State. Article V provides a detailed procedure for obtaining temporary custody.
“He forced them to extradite him, because then they only have 180 days from the day they receive that motion to get him in front of a jury,” she said.
However, that time has elapsed, Mrs. Parker said, since her husband was returned to Tennessee in early January. A trial is scheduled for August 6, 7 and 8, she said.
“Our attorney, who is privately-paid, has literally said that the D.A. here ‘wants to bury him under the jail,'” Mrs. Parker continued. “We’ve gotten zero counsel from him, and he hasn’t contacted any of the witnesses whose names we provided. He basically wants Jimmy to take a plea deal.”
“The first plea deal they offered him was ten years at 100%,” she told us on Friday. “Now they’ve offered him a deal for eight years at 30%. I understand accountability, but the other part of this is he is a 16-year, three-time combat veteran. He served in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. He was a gunnery sergeant and is the last person you would expect to be in jail. There are thousands of veterans like him; their situations are not criminal. It’s a mental health issue, which is not being addressed in this country.”
Mrs. Parker said that both in Rutherford County and in Colorado, Parker was not permitted to submit evidence of his PTSD during his defense.
“No one from Rutherford County or the Murfreesboro PD have yet to ask my husband his recollections of that evening,” Mrs. Parker said. “No statement was ever requested or received from him regarding this event.”
In his letter to The Post & Email, Parker wrote, “In both 2016 and again in 2017 I was unvoluntarily pushed into uncontrolable, duressful situations that pushed me into a P.T.S.D. episode. Both episodes landed me in jail facing serious charges. Although there is explainable, clinical answers to what and how these incidents happened, no one in the Judicial System will even talk, consider, hear, or investigate the truth. In fact, in court, I have been denied a voice and any truth to the facts and circumstaces sourounding the act, have been surpressed by the prosecution.” [sic]
Mrs. Parker, who is not originally from Tennessee, said that shortly after she arrived in the state, she was stopped for an alleged dysfunctional taillight. Without any criminal history, she said, she was “taken to a jail” on the premise that she had a “failure to appear” on her record. “I was in my professional work clothes, and they brought me to a jail,” she said. “They will arrest you for anything; it doesn’t matter who you are; and if you have a bullseye on your back, forget it — if you’ve done anything, they’ll trump it up so you’re never getting out of it.”
Having come from a different part of the country, Mrs. Parker told us, “There is a good old boy system here where everybody knows everybody; everybody knows everybody’s business or what they think is their business. If you don’t have the right name, then you are pretty-much in trouble. If you do something in Tennessee and have the right name, it doesn’t really matter. Look at the sheriff: he will be getting out fairly soon. How is that possible considering what he did?”
Mrs. Parker said she has observed prosecutorial misconduct in the Rutherford County criminal courtroom. “On one of Jimmy’s court dates, I was sitting in the courtroom and watching two prosecutors,” she said. “These two sat there like two girls in a high school cafeteria making fun of defendants who did not have legal representation and had to address the judge themselves. They were laughing; it was as if it was a big joke to them. Anyone sitting in the courtroom doing that would literally be held in contempt of court. But the prosecutors’ behavior was completely ignored; it was as if it were completely acceptable behavior. I was in shock. I just couldn’t believe that these two women with law degrees were sitting there and making a mockery of our criminal justice system.”
Of his current situation, Parker wrote in his email on Monday, “This city/county is corrupt and so corrupt that they willfully and maliciously violate peoples rights for sake of money, convictions, and career ladders. PRISONERS FOR PROFIT! So yes, its not just about me and my situation, its about all of us being persecuted, illegally by those in positions to uphold the law. It just needs to be exposed and stopped. R/S J. Parker”.
“Jimmy is a very smart guy; you can see he’s well-written,” Mrs. Parker told us. “You don’t make it that far in the military without having some brains. Without spending millions of dollars I don’t have, I don’t know how to make a difference in this. We can say it all we want, but if no one’s listening and nobody wants to make that change and the powers that be aren’t looking at it, then how do you make that happen?”
Since the publication of our initial story on Parker, two others have come forward reporting prosecutorial misconduct in Rutherford County.
Copies of indictments Parker mailed to us demonstrating Hudson’s long-term installation follow.