Attorney General honors prosecutors in murder trial

Attorney General honors prosecutors in murder trial

December 8th, 2009 by Monica Mercer in News

Two local federal prosecutors received prestigious awards from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week in Washington, D.C., in recognition of their efforts fighting dangerous street crime in Chattanooga.

Assistant U.S. attorneys Steve Neff and Chris Poole received the awards after consideration by a panel from the U.S. Department of Justice. Only 144 other federal law enforcement officials were recognized at the annual ceremony, despite hundreds of nominations from the 94 federal districts across the country.

"Both Chris and Steve, I think, go way beyond what they are called to do," U.S. Attorney Russ Dedrick said Monday. "They really care about their community."

As the Knoxville-based U.S. attorney for the Eastern federal district of Tennessee, Mr. Dedrick oversees the work of Mr. Neff and Mr. Poole, as well as several other assistant U.S. attorneys who are responsible for prosecuting people who break federal laws in Eastern Tennessee.

"I was shocked," Mr. Poole said Monday about the moment he found out he'd be going to Washington to receive the honor. "It was pretty cool."

In late 2008, Mr. Neff and Mr. Poole prosecuted the high-profile case against Rejon Taylor, a young man who was sentenced to death for his role in the 2003 murder in Collegedale of an Atlanta businessman. It was the first-ever federal death penalty case to be tried in Eastern Tennessee.

Mr. Dedrick said Mr. Neff and Mr. Poole also have been instrumental in helping to advance "Project Safe Neighborhoods," a federal program implemented in 2001. The program is designed to work with local law enforcement to send chronic violent offenders to federal prison, where sentences tend to be much more severe than in state systems.

According to statistics from the Chattanooga Police Department, violent crime in the city dropped 31 percent between 2001 and 2007, in large part because of the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative.

Mr. Dedrick said that a strong dedication to working with local law enforcement is not necessarily required of assistant U.S. attorneys.

"But Steve and Chris routinely meet with local law enforcement officers to ferret out the most dangerous people on the street," Mr. Dedrick said. "We are very fortunate to have them working in Chattanooga."

Also honored at the ceremony were two other assistant U.S. attorneys who work in the Knoxville office. Paige Winck was honored for years of service writing appellate cases, while Elizabeth Tonkin was honored for helping recover more than $50 million in recent years in her capacity as a civil litigator.