published Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Tennessee cornfield slaying case faces separation of trials

All four men charged in the March 2013 cornfield slaying of Corey N. Matthews near Cowan, Tenn., could end up with their cases being tried separately, now that two of the cases already have been pulled out.

Authorities arrested the four Tennessee men -- John Corey Lanier, 26, Todd E. Dalton, 39, David Gordon Jenkins, 46, and Coty Keith Holmes, 25 -- on charges of first-degree murder and felony murder in the killing. The ages are listed as they were upon the men's arrests.

The suspects have ties to white supremacy groups, as did the victim, authorities said. Investigators have said the men's ties to the Aryan Nation and possibly the Aryan Brotherhood are linked to the slaying.

The cases of Lanier and Holmes now are separated from the case of Jenkins and Dalton, according to officials. Holmes was the first defendant to seek a separate trial last summer in a motion for a speedy trial, and Lanier's case was severed last month.

Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller said the defendants could end up testifying against each other when their cases are tried.

Fuller said the four men are being held separately in jails in Bedford, Coffee, Lincoln and Marion counties.

On Tuesday, 12th Judicial District Attorney General Mike Taylor said it's not uncommon for a case with multiple defendants to be split up, and all four men could end up tried or pleading their cases individually.

"The way it is right now, we could probably try only two of them together -- Jenkins and Dalton," Taylor said.

"It all depends on the statements. If they make statements to the police that we would want to introduce that implicate anyone other than themselves, it's very hard to try two defendants together," he said.

"For judicial economy you try to try as many defendants together as you can, but sometimes you just can't do it," he said.

Matthews' body was found March 24, 2013, in a cornfield on Slag Town Road after his family reported him missing.

He was found lying on his back in clothes wet from a recent rainstorm with blunt trauma to his head and face, TBI and Franklin County officials said.

The family said Matthews, a volunteer firefighter and father of two school-age children, hadn't been seen between the night of March 23 and the morning of March 24 when a missing persons report was filed.

Cowan police officer Mike Holmes stopped to talk to the family that day and drove out beyond Matthews' Tennessee Avenue home to look for him, Chief Allen Edwards said early in the investigation. The officer spotted Matthews' body just outside the city limits in a cornfield across Slag Town Road from a tiny graveyard called Jackson Cemetery.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

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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