Winchester councilman denies rape, sex charges

Winchester councilman denies rape, sex charges

May 11th, 2011 by Ben Benton in News

Cheyne Stewart, 24, of First Avenue, Winchester, Tenn. Stewart is charged with three counts of aggravated rape, three counts of aggravated sexual battery, criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated rape, criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated sexual battery, criminal conspiracy to commit rape and criminal conspiracy to commit sexual battery. On this date - 5/11/11 - Stewart remains a Winchester City Councilman.

WINCHESTER, Tenn. - Winchester City Councilman Cheyne Stewart says he will not step down from his post and plans to "vigorously defend" himself amid allegations stemming from a 16-count indictment charging him on multiple counts of sexual assault.

"I feel it's necessary tonight to address my colleagues and the people whom I was elected to represent," Stewart told a small group at the Winchester City Council meeting on Tuesday. Stewart was one of two men charged in the assault.

"With the recent allegations that have been made against me, many questions have asked about the future of my position as a council member," he said.

Stewart said the City Charter speaks to his situation.

The charter states "the person may be removed from office, if convicted," Stewart read from a prepared document.

"Ladies and gentlemen I am not ... guilty of, nor have I been convicted of any crime," he said.

He promised to vigorously defend himself "in the next few months."

The comments come after Stewart's arrest Friday on a 16-count indictment issued last week by the Franklin County grand jury charging him with a variety of sexual assault charges, authorities said.

Records show Stewart, 24, of First Avenue, Winchester, is charged with three counts of aggravated rape, three counts of aggravated sexual battery, three counts of rape, three counts of sexual battery, criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated rape, criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated sexual battery, criminal conspiracy to commit rape and criminal conspiracy to commit sexual battery.

Stewart is charged along with a second man, 24-year-old Jefferey Michael Kennedy, of Sprouse Way, Knoxville. Kennedy is charged on an indictment with three counts of aggravated rape, three counts of aggravated sexual battery, three counts of rape and three counts of sexual battery, authorities said.

Stewart is free on $100,000 bond and Kennedy is free on $25,000 bond, officials said. Both men face appearances in Franklin County Circuit Court on Friday.

Sheriff Tim Fuller said Tuesday that the probe began about seven months ago when the district attorney's office asked his department to launch an investigation after the adult female victim sought medical treatment related to her alleged encounter with Stewart and Kennedy. Prosecutors directed the county department to conduct the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest for Winchester police.

The incident happened at Stewart's Winchester apartment, the sheriff said.

Fuller characterized Stewart and Kennedy as "acquaintances" and said that as far as he knew the two men and the woman had been together just the night of the sexual assault.

The sheriff said neither man has a prior criminal record. The sheriff said he couldn't elaborate further on the case.

Local residents in the council room gallery decline to comment specifically, but a group of more than 10 people said they were there to show support for Stewart.

During the meeting and in an earlier work session, Stewart participated in discussions, made motions and voted. Council members did not bring up the allegations.

Stewart, a native of Cowen, Tenn., and a 2005 graduate of Franklin County High School, won a bid for a City Council post in 2009, according to the city of Winchester's website, Stewart's Facebook page and related 2009 campaign pages.

Stewart came to the council with a record of considerable government participation, according to the city's website. Gov. Phil Bredesen appointed Stewart to the Volunteer Tennessee Board of Directors in Nashville, and Stewart served as a legislative aide to Bredesen in 2008. Stewart is a member of a number of city, civic and political organizations and clubs, the website states.