MADISONVILLE, Tenn. — Once the key prosecution witness testified that a detective coached him to lie and the detective pleaded the Fifth Amendment, it was all over but the ruling.
On Friday, a judge dismissed murder charges against John Edward Dawson in the 2006 slaying of Sweetwater businessman Troy Green and said he should be released from jail.
Special prosecutor Bill Cox, citing the "taint" of investigators' improper behavior, called for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to re-investigate thoroughly "all aspects of this case."
Green disappeared while delivering produce on April 22, 2006, according to newspaper archives. His car was found two days later in McMinn County. The body was found May 6 in Roane County -- a different judicial district -- with head wounds and broken ribs. Dawson was indicted for murder in January 2010.
But on Friday, Criminal Court Judge Amy Reedy dismissed the charge after prosecution witness Monty Cox confessed on the stand that he had lied in an affidavit used to get the indictment. Reedy took only about 15 minutes in recess to make her ruling.
Monty Cox, a lanky man with a graying beard and ponytail, testified that his conscience had bothered him ever since then-Monroe County Detective Patrick Henry convinced him to name Dawson as the person who sold him the murdered man's gun.
Before Monty Cox began his testimony, Reedy reminded him that he didn't have to answer any question that would incriminate him.
"I'm here to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may," Monty Cox replied.
Under questioning by Dawson's attorney Brian Nichols, of Loudon, Tenn., Monty Cox said he and Dawson had known each other for years and he had sold scrap metal to Dawson.
He said Henry came to his house one day in 2007 and began asking about a pistol Monty Cox owned. Cox told Henry he bought the gun at a flea market from a man named Dirty Eddie, who wasn't Dawson.
But, Monty Cox said, "In my mind at the time, he convinced me Eddie was a murderer and if I changed one thing in my statement, it would take a murderer off the street and make the world a better place."
Monty Cox said Henry promised that, in return, he'd work on getting Monty Cox's good friend out of prison.
Special prosecutor Bill Cox, who now is Hamilton County's district attorney and is not related to Monty Cox, asked why he had agreed to testify about his earlier lie.
"It was wrong. But a detective with the sheriff's department, he patted me on the back, he's grinning and telling me things are all right, that this is how things are done," Monty Cox said.
In his earlier testimony on Friday, Henry wasn't asked about the pistol. Nichols asked Henry and current Detective Doug Brannon about their past history with Dawson -- history that outraged the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals and got the 10th Judicial District, where the charges originally were filed, disqualified from hearing the murder case.
Dawson was awaiting trial on drug and vandalism charges in 2007 when Henry began looking at him in the Green slaying. Court records in the earlier case and an appeals court opinion state that Henry recruited Dawson's cellmate, Todd Sweet, to try to get Dawson to incriminate himself in the killing. Sweet was even fitted with a recording device in his shoe.
Henry developed a persona as a lawyer and convinced Dawson -- through delivery via Sweet of bogus letters from "attorney Paul Harris" -- to stop talking to his public defender and consult with the fake lawyer instead, the court files and appeals court ruling show.
Henry recruited Brannon, who was a new investigator, to play a "mob connection" and meet with Dawson to reinforce the invented Paul Harris persona, court records allege.
During testimony Friday, when Nichols asked Henry about the ruse, which the appeals court called "unconscionable" and "egregious," Henry invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He wouldn't say whether he had participated in the scheme, whether he had talked to Sweet or whether 10th Judicial District prosecutors had advised him about it.
However, court records and the appeals court opinion substantiated the scheme and were the basis for barring the 10th Judicial District from handling the murder case.
Brannon testified that he didn't tell Dawson to ignore his public defender and denied knowing about letters from the phony Harris.
Nichols and Bill Cox also questioned Henry and Brannon about concurrent investigations into Green's death by the Roane and McMinn County sheriff's offices and the TBI. Both officers testified they had seen the names of other potential suspects in those files but had not questioned them or investigated anyone other than Dawson.
Bill Cox at one point asked Henry and Brannon whether they believed the slaying even had occurred in McMinn County.
Henry's response: "There's no actual pinpointed location, but that was the theory."
Brannon said, "I couldn't say if it was here, here or here."
Nichols called only those three witnesses, then pleaded with the court to dismiss the murder charge.
"I can't think of a more egregious scenario than securing false testimony, a lie, and knowingly presenting that evidence to the grand jury to seek an indictment," he said. "To me, it rises to the level of outrageous conduct."
Bill Cox didn't fight him.
"There's very little doubt in my mind the court is going to dismiss this case today," he said, and added that he had no problem with that "based upon the taint that has accrued prior to our arrival."
Reedy dismissed the charges without prejudice, which means charges could be brought again if new evidence is found.
"There is absolutely only one remedy in this case, and that's to grant the motion to dismiss based on the disturbing evidence we have heard today," she said.
Several members of Green's family, some weeping, gathered outside the courtroom with Tim Carroll of the Hamilton County district attorney's office after the ruling. They said they didn't want to make a statement.
Nichols welcomed the ruling and praised Bill Cox for "wanting to see justice for this family."
"We're very relieved that finally Eddie Dawson gets to go home," Nichols said.
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...