published Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Sequatchie slaying sent to grand jury

DUNLAP, Tenn. -- Murder, robbery and arson charges against a man and a woman accused in a deadly shooting were bound over to the grand jury Wednesday.

General Sessions Judge L. Thomas Austin set Susan Lynette Baker's bond at $150,000 and Thomas Bryan Bettis' bond at $100,000.

They are charged in the shooting death of Clifford M. Carden Jr., 55, of Bledsoe County. His body was found floating in the Sequatchie River on Feb. 3 .

Baker, 35, of Graysville, and Bettis, 35, of Whitwell, Tenn., were booked on charges of felony murder, especially aggravated robbery and setting fire to personal property.

The Sequatchie County grand jury will decide whether to indict the two and what charges are appropriate, Austin said.

Sequatchie County lead investigator Jody Lockhart, the only person to take the stand at Wednesday's hearing, testified about Baker's and Bettis' police statements and the collected evidence. That includes a gun sold for $200 at a Soddy-Daisy biker bar and a bloodied prescription pill bottle belonging to Carden.

Lockhart said that Baker told authorities she intended to rob Carden, not kill him. Lockhart said Baker told about riding with Carden to pick up Bettis, then traveling to South Sequatchie County where the fatal shot was fired.

Baker said she had found Carden's gun, a 9 mm Taurus pistol, under the seat of the car, Lockhart said.

"She was sitting in the passenger seat, and Mr. Carden grabbed her left arm; she reached with her right arm -- she had a hoodie on with a large pocket -- she pulled the gun out and shot him in the right side of the head," Lockhart testified.

With Carden still at the wheel, the car was just "creeping along" and finally rolled to a stop, he said.

Bettis told police that Baker pushed Carden's body into the passenger side, then started driving, Lockhart said. He said Bettis told authorities he was in the back seat and didn't try to stop Baker because she threatened him.

Lockhart said Baker admitted that she and Bettis took $1,005 in cash from the car. They dumped Carden's body in the Sequatchie River and went to his home, where they stole several items. Then they took Carden's car to a remote area to burn it, Lockhart said.

They caught a ride back to town, he testified.

Authorities have said Baker and Bettis spent the money at the local Walmart and at the Mountain Valley Inn in Dunlap. They stayed from Feb. 2-5 before parting company, Lockhart testified.

Defense lawyer Rob Philyaw and Public Defender Jeff Harmon, who represent Baker and Bettis respectively, asked Lockhart about when the pair were read their Miranda rights and whether they asked for legal counsel during questioning.

Lockhart said they both were given their rights and, though both asked about obtaining legal counsel, they gave statements without lawyers present.

After the hearing Dorothy Carden, the victim's aunt, said that if the defendants are found guilty, they should reap what they've sown.

"I believe in an eye for an eye, a life for a life," she said. "I support the death penalty."

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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