published Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Judge sends gambling raid case to grand jury

A local judge thwarted a defense attorney's attempts to reduce attempted first-degree murder charges against his client in a hearing Tuesday.

After prosecutor Neal Pinkston produced witnesses that he said established probable cause for the charges against Clifford Billups, Hamilton County General Sessions Judge Ronald Durby refused to reduce the charge before sending it to the grand jury.

Police say that, during an April 12 gambling raid of a Gunbarrel Road business, Billups ran from the back of the building and pointed a gun at Officer John Patterson.

On Tuesday, attorney Bill Speek, who was representing Billups, had subpoenaed five witnesses, men who also were arrested and pleaded guilty to gambling charges after the raid at ATC Healthcare.

"I am attempting to reduce the charge of attempted first-degree murder of a police officer," Speek told Durby on Tuesday toward the end of the half-hour hearing.

"Wouldn't that be a wonderful day for you?" Durby replied. "This court is not going to reduce it at this level."

"I may object to it, but it doesn't do me any good, does it?" Speek said.

"Well, it can be noted," Durby replied.

Billups, who was at the hearing, is free on bond awaiting the outcome of his charges.

Patterson testified in the Tuesday hearing that he and another officer were assigned to cover the back of the building. Four to five people exited the back, he said, and he looked up to see Billups point a weapon at him.

"I was looking down the barrel of a cannon feeling like my head was going to get blown off," he testified.

Patterson fired three shots, striking Billups once.

Police testified they yelled "police" as they entered the building. Some officers wore shirts with the word "police" printed on the front.

One of those present during the raid, 61-year-old Neal Spitalny, testified Tuesday that he did not hear anyone say "police" and thought the poker game was being robbed and he might die.

Spitalny pleaded guilty to a single gambling charge and was placed on probation.

Nearly all the remaining 15 defendants arrested in the raid have pleaded guilty to gambling related charges, mostly misdemeanors. Many have received judicial diversion or probation.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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