Judge ousts Mathews' defense

Judge ousts Mathews' defense

May 7th, 2011 by Todd South in News

Two private attorneys appointed to represent the man charged in the shooting death of a Chattanooga police sergeant will ask the court to seek a jury from outside Hamilton County for his trial.

"There'll be a change of venue motion filed," attorney Lee Davis said to reporters after the hearing for Jesse Ray Mathews, 25.

Davis and Bryan Hoss were named to defend Mathews after Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman on Friday took the public defender's office off the case.

Mathews is charged with killing Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin during a failed armed robbery April 2 at the U.S. Money Shops on Brainerd Road.

Mathews was indicted on one count of felony murder, one count of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of aggravated robbery on April 27. District Attorney Bill Cox has filed notice stating that he will ask for the death penalty if Mathews is convicted.

Steelman's order surprised Mathews' three public defenders - Karla Gothard, Jane Buffaloe and Mary Ann Green.

"We were fully expecting to be appointed, and the first notice we got that we weren't being appointed was when the judge appointed Mr. Davis and Mr. Hoss," Gothard said after the hearing.

Davis told reporters after the hearing Steelman called him and Hoss and asked them to accept an appointment on the case.

Document: Steelman's Order

A seven-page order from Steelman details his reasoning for cutting the defender?s office out of the case.

"Believe me, it's not something we want to do but something this serious, this important - both Bryan and myself take anyone's right to counsel extremely seriously," Davis said.

He said the two will meet with Mathews at the jail and begin preparing the case. He expects scheduling and trial dates to be chosen by the next hearing.

Steelman scheduled the next court hearing date for Aug. 16.

ROBBERY AND DEATH

Authorities say Mathews, who walked away from a halfway house in Colorado where he was serving time for a robbery conviction, planned the Brainerd Road pawnshop robbery.

Court documents state Mathews was wearing body armor and carrying two semiautomatic pistols. Documents state he fired at four police officers, killing Chapin in a close-range shootout, before being captured while trying to flee.

Police said Mathews was shot several times and had been listed in critical condition shortly after the incident. He was in a wheelchair, jaw wired shut and drainage tubes protruding from beneath his chin, for an April 13 preliminary hearing.

On Friday afternoon, Mathews shuffled into the half-filled courtroom. Wearing a red jail jumpsuit, his ankles shackled and wrists handcuffed to a chain around his waist, he sat in a row of padded chairs in front of the jury box.

Mathews spoke once, answering a question from Steelman.

"The first thing I have to do is determine if you have funds to pay for an attorney," Steelman asked.

"I do not," Mathews answered.

Members of his family - father Ray Vance Mathews, mother Kathleen Mathews, sister Rachel Mathews and her boyfriend James Poteete - face a July 5 trial in federal court on charges they aided Mathews before and after the shooting.

NEW ATTORNEYS

A seven-page order from Steelman details his reasoning for cutting the defender's office out of the case.

Steelman cited concerns about the public defender's caseload, Gothard's health and previous trial performances by her and Green in death penalty cases.

In 1993 Leroy Hall Jr. was sentenced to die for convictions of first-degree murder and aggravated arson in the death of his ex-girlfriend, Traci Crozier, according to Times Free Press archives. Gothard represented Hall in the original case.

"In May of 2002 a hearing on Leroy Hall's post-conviction petition was held," Steelman wrote. "[Gothard] testified that neither she nor her co-counsel were effective in their representation of the defendant at trial."

Steelman cited two other death penalty cases that he prosecuted as an assistant district attorney before being elected judge in 2006.

Marlon Duane Kiser was convicted and received the death penalty in November 2003 for killing Hamilton County Deputy Donald Bond. Gothard and Green represented Kiser.

According to Steelman's order, Green "did not state at the time of the hearing that she believed the defendant was not competent" and Gothard "stated that she had no question about the defendant's competency."

After the verdict, Green filed a motion for a new trial on the grounds that "she had personal concerns regarding Kiser's competency to waive mitigation."

Gothard also represented Isaac Jones, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the killing of Chattanooga police officer Julie Jacks.

Jones petitioned for a new trial because, he said, he didn't have the chance to testify on his own behalf, according to newspaper archives.

"You failed to satisfy yourself that he wished to waive his right to testify in the case. Is that what you're saying?" Cox asked, according to the post-conviction hearing transcript excerpt in Steelman's order.

"Pains me to say this, but yes," Gothard replied in the transcript.

NO CONFLICT

Reached by phone after the hearing, Hoss responded to questions about possible conflicts for him and Davis.

Each counts police officers among his clients, and Hoss also represents officers who are members of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Benevolent Association in disciplinary cases.

Davis confirmed he represented Chapin in a 2001 DUI case. The charge was reduced to reckless driving and Chapin was sentenced to six months of probation, which was suspended, Davis said.

"Lawyers frequently are required to put on different hats, and what our job is to do is represent the client in court at that time," Hoss said. "We were hoping there was a conflict."

Davis said he had checked with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility to ensure that neither had a conflict with representing Mathews.

Gothard said after the hearing she regretted that her office had not been notified in advance of the change.

"I really would have liked to be able to tell Jesse this," Gothard. "I can't even go explain it to him. He's totally unaware, we were unaware, how's he aware?"