published Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Teen suspect in Lookout Valley triple slaying denied bond

  • photo
    Drew Tracy makes calls in an attempt to gain more information about what happened to his best friend John "Jake" Lang who was shot and killed April 9 near the 300 block of Kelly's ferry place in Lookout Valley. Lang had just moved his Winnebago to the scenic location two days earlier. The shootings in three dead one injured. Two suspects have been charged in the case.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Poll
Should the 15-year-old shooting suspect be tried as an adult?

As his mother looked on, a 15-year-old boy charged in the Lookout Valley triple slaying was denied bail.

Looming now is the question of whether the teen's case will be transferred to Hamilton County Criminal Court, where he would be tried as an adult.

The suspect was named publicly Tuesday through information released following his closed hearing in Hamilton County Juvenile Court. In accordance with Times Free Press policy, the newspaper is not identifying him because he is a minor and has not been charged as an adult.

He faces three counts of first-degree murder in the April 9 shooting deaths of John F. Lang, Caleb N. Boozer and Jon E. Morris and one count of attempted first-degree murder.

If convicted, the teenager faces three life sentences.

His fellow teen co-defendant, Derek Morse, 19, faces the same charges in adult court and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on May 8.

Police responded to a bloody scene at 4505 Kellys Ferry Road after 7 p.m. on April 9. Officers discovered the three dead men and one surviving shooting victim, Michael Callen, 16.

Callen told police that two men began shooting and that he retreated into his motor home after he was hit. He also told police something he heard one of the gunmen say: "Make sure they're all dead."

Morse has a lengthy criminal history, including charges of aggravated assault, forgery, fraud, identity theft, theft and drugs.

Information on the 15-year-old's criminal history is not allowed to be released because of his juvenile status. But his attorney, Martin Levitt, argued that the boy be allowed bond because he had no criminal history.

  • photo
    The scene of a triple slaying near the 300 block of Kellys Ferry Place in Lookout Valley.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The teen's mother and another woman attended the hearing. They declined to comment to the media. Levitt also declined to comment.

Juvenile detention hearings are not open to the public but Court Administrator Sam Mairs shared basic information about the brief proceeding after it had concluded.

Mairs said Magistrate Chris Gott heard from prosecutor H.C. Bright and Levitt on arguments about the bond. Gott then set a May 20 review date. At that time the magistrate will schedule a transfer hearing.

That hearing is where Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw will hear evidence and determine whether the teen's charges will be sent to Criminal Court or if he can remain in the Juvenile Court's jurisdiction.

"I cannot emphasize this enough: That hearing is not about guilt or innocence," Mairs said.

Juvenile Court Director Rachel Brock explained that the hearing is to decide whether the teen can benefit from rehabilitative services at the juvenile level.

First the prosecutor will present evidence that an offense was committed and that the defendant committed it, she said. The threshold is probable cause, just as it is in General Sessions Court.

Before that transfer hearing, Brock said, the teen will likely receive a psychological evaluation to help the court learn whether he suffers from any mental illness or condition that would prevent him from understanding court proceedings.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

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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