published Thursday, January 9th, 2014

District attorney urged to recuse himself in fatal shooting case

A local lawyer suggests Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin may need to recuse himself from the case involving the killer of a Ringgold, Ga., teenager.

McCracken Poston represents the family of 17-year-old Dalton McConathy, who was shot and killed in November.

On Monday, Poston sent an email to Franklin and Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk. He attached the signatures of about 1,000 local residents who apparently want Franklin to present the case to a grand jury.

Franklin said Wednesday that public opinion will not weigh in his decision how to handle the case. Most members of the community don't have access to all of the evidence, he said.

Poston wrote in the email that Franklin may want to recuse himself for two reasons. First, the attorney wrote, Franklin has a long history of prosecuting Dalton's father, Bobby McConathy, who records show has been arrested in Catoosa County nine times since 1999 and convicted five times.

Poston said Franklin's dislike for Bobby McConathy may affect how the district attorney views this case. Franklin has said his relationship with Bobby McConathy plays no part in whether he will prosecute 69-year-old Fred Steven Youngblood.

Poston also wrote that Franklin faces a second conflict of interest: His office is prosecuting the two friends who were there when Dalton McConathy died.

On Nov. 11, according to the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office, Dalton McConathy and a 16-year-old boy went to Youngblood's house at 2520 Post Oak Road to retrieve scrap metal. Youngblood later told investigators he found the boys leaving his basement.

Youngblood told police that when he asked the boys to leave, they charged at him. He said he shot McConathy in the neck in self defense.

The McConathy family's story is different. They say Dalton and the 16-year-old checked to see if the house was abandoned, and they tried to take the metal only after nobody answered the front door.

The only two witnesses are Youngblood and the unnamed 16-year-old. But after the shooting, the sheriff's office charged the other boy and Dalton McConathy's girlfriend, who was sitting in a truck in front of Youngblood's house, with burglary.

William Lamphier, the attorney for the 16-year-old, said the boy is not participating in the district attorney's investigation because his own case is still open in Juvenile Court.

Franklin said the prosecution of the teen and McConathy's 18-year-old girlfriend, Ansley Chrnalogar, will not affect his decision on Youngblood.

"The sheriff's office did conduct a pretty thorough investigation and did talk to all the parties who were present," Franklin said.

Two months after the killing, the district attorney has not yet decided what to do. He said he still has not reviewed the full investigative file. He needs more information from the sheriff's office, and he needs the final autopsy report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Records show that since 2002, Franklin has recused himself from prosecuting 25 cases, most recently in August. If Franklin were to step aside, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens would appoint a different attorney to handle the case.

Youngblood's attorney, Chad Young, said in an email that Poston's petition should not play a part in his client's case.

"The existing process which has been in place for over 200 years exists to protect the rights of all parties involved in this matter, including those of our client to be free from criminal prosecution when acting within his rights under the law," Young said.

"In the event law enforcement and the district attorney make the determination to seek a criminal indictment against our client, all criminal allegations will be vigorously defended. In this event, all pertinent facts will be aired in a public forum, including some which seem to have been overlooked, including the fact that three teenagers trespassed onto the property of an elderly man, entered and burglarized his home and took actions which he perceived to be threats of bodily harm."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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