published Friday, May 9th, 2014

Cook: Contempt of court

Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb

— Fifth Amendment, U.S. Constitution

She was acquitted.

In 2009, Twanna Blair was acquitted.

A Tennessee court of law declared her not guilty of the charges against her. Such a pronouncement is final and forever, something you can't reverse or erase.

Yet 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb is trying to do just that.

The Founding Fathers would be thunderstruck; in 1791, they crafted into the U.S. Constitution -- right there next to freedom of speech and the right to bear arms -- something called double jeopardy:

We as Americans can't be tried for the same crime twice. Once acquitted of a crime, we can't face the same charges all over again.

For some reason, Bebb seems to think otherwise.

Valentine's Day, 1999: Cleveland, Tenn., officers find three dead bodies inside Twanna Blair's townhome, each shot execution-style in the head. Blair, too, had been shot, and officers found her bleeding from a gunshot wound to her lower back.

For the next five years, Detective Eric Hampton investigated the case, interviewing Blair hundreds of times.

Later, he would testify that at no point did he consider Blair anything but a victim.

October 2008: New investigators have taken over the case, and the district attorney's office charges two men for the crimes.

They charge Blair as well.

Believing that she was somehow an accomplice and claiming she had lied to police, they charge Blair with five counts: aggravated robbery and first-degree murder.

September 2009: At her trial, prosecutors argue that Blair knew the gunmen and let them into her townhome willingly, thereby making her an agent in the crimes that followed. Despite clear evidence of a forced break-in, they suggest a sort of cover-up: the victims were shot lethally in the head while Blair was intentionally and nonfatally shot in the lower back; she, an accomplice only pretending to be a victim.

The jury could not reach a verdict.

But the judge could.

In a moment of judicial boldness, Judge Amy Reedy, realizing the shallowness of the state's case, acquitted Blair of the murder and robbery charges.

"The state has failed to properly present proof," she said. In fact, she made that very statement -- the state has failed -- at least three times.

"I grant the judgment of acquittal," Reedy says.

Yet Reedy does not acquit Blair of one charge: facilitation to commit murder and robbery -- that Blair had been part of the planning of the crimes. It is a lesser offense in comparison to the top-tier charges of murder and robbery. For that lone facilitation charge, Reedy declares a mistrial.

Blair's attorneys -- Lee Davis and Bryan Hoss -- appeal.

Before an appeals judge can make a decision, Bebb dismisses the facilitation charge against her.

March, 2014: Five years after Blair's acquittal, Bebb re-indicts her on the very same charges Reedy declared her not guilty of committing.

Murder.

And aggravated robbery.

In fact, the original indictments and the newest indictments contain the same language. In parts, Bebb could have cut-and-pasted from one to the other.

Bebb also charged Blair with facilitation -- that one hangnail of a charge that Reedy declared as a mistrial in 2009, and that Bebb himself later dismissed.

As a lesser offense, the facilitation charge would be considered a Class B or C felony, and the statute of limitations (eight years for the former, four for the latter) would have already expired.

It is absurdist, unethical law practice: how does Bebb listen to a judge declare Blair innocent of a crime, then charge her all over again with committing it?

How do you charge someone with facilitating a crime when you've already dismissed that charge against her?

This wouldn't pass eighth-grade civics, much less law school.

It gets worse.

After this new round of indictments, Blair's attorneys immediately file a motion to dismiss them. Then, Bebb removes himself from the case, saying he has multiple conflicts of interest.

If those conflicts are genuine, then Bebb should have never filed the new indictments in the first place. His conflicts didn't suddenly fall out of the sky; they've been in place for years, which means Bebb filed an indictment knowing he couldn't prosecute it.

Next week, Thursday, May 15: A hearing is set for 9 a.m. in Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood's courtroom in Bradley County.

When I called Bebb with questions about what he's done, the woman who answered referred me to Richard Fisher, the former prosecutor who Bebb named as his replacement to prosecute the case. I called and asked how he could charge Blair twice for the same crime.

"Let me explain it to you on the 15th," he said. "I'll be explaining it to everybody."

Fisher and Bebb should face an ethics investigation and then lose their licenses to practice law. Their explaining has just begun.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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