Prosecutors drop homicide charge in Walter Small trial

Prosecutors drop homicide charge in Walter Small trial

June 8th, 2011 by Todd South in News

Walter Small looked back at the rest of Judge Rebecca Stern's courtroom during his trial at the City-County Courts building. Small was originally charged with criminally negligent homicide as well as filing false reports in connection with the death of Robert Young. Prosecutors later dropped the charge of criminally negligent homicide and Small was on trial only for filing false reports.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.

A 43-year-old former health care provider is on trial on charges that he lied to police about the death of a patient.

Until the first day of the trial Tuesday, Walter Small faced one charge of criminally negligent homicide and three charges of filing false reports in connection with the 2007 death of 33-year-old Robbie Young.

Hamilton County Assistant District Attorney Boyd Patterson dropped the homicide charge against Small and began the trial seeking a guilty verdict on the remaining three false report charges.

Under state law, the charge carries a two- to 12-year prison sentence, which is greater than the one- to six-year penalty for criminally negligent homicide.

When asked about the dropped charge, Patterson said he could not comment on an ongoing trial.

During his opening statement, Patterson told jurors that Young was "horribly abused as a child" and suffered from cerebral palsy, requiring constant care.

On Nov. 7, 2007, at The Health Care Center at Standifer Place, Young began to have seizures and Small alerted nurses, who had Young transported to the hospital. Days later he died.

Young was buried, but months later a relative began asking questions, Patterson said. Authorities exhumed Young's body from his grave and performed an autopsy, discovering he had a cracked skull.

Police then began questioning Standifer Place employees.

From that point forward, Small revealed different details about what had happened to Young over the course of five separate interviews with Chattanooga police, a nurse investigator and a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent. Chattanooga police Officer James Tate testified that Small's story changed multiple times in each interview.

It wasn't until Aug. 20, 2008, that police put together a sufficient picture of what happened to charge Small, Patterson said.

That same day, Small called police and told them he wanted to tell "the truth about what happened," Patterson said.

During an interrogation, Small told police that, as he showered Young, the man jerked backward, striking his head on a bar. Small got a nurse, who said Young looked fine.

Small said he then put Young in his bed, and checked on him again later that day, noticing the seizure at that time.

Small claimed that, the day after Young was taken to the hospital, Small's supervisor told him not to tell police what had happened and that the supervisor would "take care of it," reports show.

In his opening statement, Assistant Public Defender Steve Brown told the jury that "when the smoke clears and the dust settles, your job here is going to be quite dry."

He rebutted all the detailed statements and pending evidence regarding Young's death, saying they're unrelated to the charges, whether or not Small lied to police.

The trial continues today.

Contact staff writer Todd South at or 423-757-6347.