A federal judge's recusal from a defense request crucial to the state death penalty case of Jesse Mathews could delay the trial.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice recused himself at Mathews' request from further involvement in the defendant's federal proceedings.
Mathews' attorneys, Lee Davis and Bryan Hoss, first requested that Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Neff be interviewed for testimony to use in Matthews' penalty phase if he is convicted in his scheduled Jan. 22 trial.
State prosecutors, District Attorney Bill Cox and Neal Pinkston, allege that Mathews, 27, killed Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin during an attempted robbery of a Brainerd money store on April 2, 2011.
Cox and Pinkston have declined to comment on the pending case. Davis could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Neff's boss, U.S. Attorney Bill Killian, denied the request. Mathews then sought a federal judge to review the issue and compel Neff to testify. Shortly afterward he also requested Mattice be interviewed and that he recuse himself.
In past hearings before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman, Mathews' attorneys have said that if the federal issue of Neff and Mattice's testimony isn't resolved they may not be able to go to trial in January.
Neff prosecuted Matthews' mother, father, sister and sister's boyfriend on their involvement with him while he was a fugitive from a Colorado halfway house. Mattice heard the case and sentenced the family members.
Jesse's mother, Kathleen Mathews, received the severest sentence of 30 years. All are appealing their sentences.
Neff characterized Kathleen as an "evil" manipulator who controls others, especially Jesse.
Davis and Hoss want to use those statements and other information from the federal prosecution as mitigation evidence if their client is convicted.
If Mathews is found guilty, a penalty phase would begin in which defense attorneys would try to influence jurors not to assign the death penalty. Prosecutors would use evidence intended to show jurors why they think the death penalty is appropriate.
Davis has said not resolving the requests to have Neff and Mattice testify could strengthen Mathews' post-conviction appeals.
Steelman recently ruled that preparations for the death penalty trial will move forward. Earlier this month the court held a daylong review of potential jurors in Nashville.