published Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Chattanooga: Judge denies separation of charges for Parker


by Chloé Morrison
Audio clip

Hilda Wilson

LaFAYETTE, Ga. — Hilda Wilson couldn’t bear to look at the man accused of killing her sister, and when she saw him in court Friday, she nearly broke down.

“I almost cried,” she said. “I was just extremely sad because I just felt a connection between him and the disappearance of my sister.”

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell Claire Carruthers, Theresa Parker's mother, right, walks into the Walker County Courthouse with Ms. Parker's nieces, Ashten Gilbert, center, and Arica Patterson after a short break in the motion hearing of Sam Parker, who was accused of killing Ms. Parker.

On Friday, Sam Parker, dressed in a blue-gray jumpsuit and chained at his hands and feet, was out of jail for the first time in more than a year, appearing before Walker County Superior Court Judge Jon “Bo” Wood in the first of at least two motion hearings.

The former LaFayette police officer is accused of killing his estranged wife, Walker County 911 operator Theresa Parker, who disappeared in March 2007. He also faces three other felonies — computer invasion of privacy, obstructing justice and violation of his oath as a law officer.

Mr. Parker’s lawyer, public defender David Dunn, argued Friday that prosecutors mishandled the indictment against his client in a number of ways, making it invalid. But District Attorney Leigh Patterson said her team has followed the law and provided all the necessary information to move forward with a trial.

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Mr. Parker mostly was quiet during the court proceedings, although he made small talk with his lawyers before the hearing, occasionally showing a faint smile. At one time he passed a note to one of his lawyers, and he tapped the toe of his shackled foot throughout the hearing. His hair — short, receding and peppered with gray at the temples — looked the same as it did the day he was arrested in February 2008.

“I had heard that the stress of being in jail had really taken a toll on him, but as far as I can tell, he looks the same to me,” Mrs. Wilson said of the man she once considered family.

Judge Wood heard several defense motions and quickly ruled to deny requests from Mr. Parker and his attorneys to grant a preliminary hearing and to try the several offenses separately.

At the next hearing on May 15, Judge Wood will consider a change-of-venue motion and a request from Mr. Dunn to allow his client to bond out of jail.

The senior judge with the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit also is considering a request from Ms. Patterson, who asked him to allow her to present evidence from a witness by way of deposition because 71-year-old Alice Virginia Cordell is too frail and sick to appear in court, according to Friday testimony from her doctor, Ted Scoggins.

Mrs. Cordell was a neighbor of Sam and Theresa Parker. She has emphysema and panic attacks, and Mr. Scoggins said her life could be in danger if she were required to testify in court.

“Her testimony is very important,” Ms. Patterson said. “It is absolutely testimony that we require.”

But Mr. Dunn said allowing a deposition would be a violation of his client’s constitutional right to face his accusers and that the prosecution should bring its witnesses to court as everyone else does. Judge Wood is considering the request.

For the family, the hearing was a harsh reminder that they may never find closure.

Mrs. Parker’s mother, Claire Carruthers — who wore a yellow ribbon pin to remember her daughter — said she didn’t sleep well last night, anticipating the hearing.

Family members said they can’t believe so much time has passed, because their heartache still is strong. Mrs. Wilson said the family has considered having a memorial service for Mrs. Parker because they know she is dead, but they haven’t given up hope of finding her body.

“I actually had to go through some of Theresa’s things yesterday,” she said. “I thought I was ready ... but there is no closure.”

  • Video: Back in court
    Former LaFayette police office Sam Parker appeared in court for the first time in more than a year for his first motion hearing. Mr. Parker¹swife, former 911 dispatcher Theresa Parker, disappeared in March 2007. He is charged with malice murder in the case.
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