Judge may use outside jury in capital trial of Jesse Mathews

Judge may use outside jury in capital trial of Jesse Mathews

October 12th, 2011 by Todd South in News

Jesse Mathews makes an appearance in court Tuesday where his attorneys Bryan Hoss, left, and Lee Davis, right, requested that Judge Barry Steelman find a jury from outside of Hamilton County. Jesse Mathews is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should a jury be brought in from outside Hamilton County for the case against Jesse Mathews?

A Hamilton County Criminal Court judge will consider pulling a jury from one of the other metro Tennessee counties for a local death penalty trial.

Judge Barry Steelman said in a Tuesday hearing that he will review the request, called a change of venire, made by defense attorney Lee Davis.

Davis and Bryan Hoss represent Jesse Mathews, who faces the death penalty on a first-degree murder charge connected to the April 2 shooting death of Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin.

Outside the hearing, Davis said their request for an outside jury was the "most critical motion that we've filed so far."

Nearly two dozen family members, friends and fellow police officers came to the half-hour hearing, which also was attended by a host of local media, including a bank of five video cameras, a local blogger and a radio correspondent.

"I think the media coverage will grow and intensify as the trial moves closer," Davis told Steelman.

Steelman agreed, citing a noon television broadcast before the Tuesday hearing that referred to Mathews as an "accused cop killer."

Both men said they are concerned that media coverage could cause problems in finding an unbiased local jury, which would hurt Mathews' chances at a fair trial.

Davis told Steelman he also would file a request to sequester the jury if the judge seeks an outside jury.

Hamilton County District Attorney Bill Cox asked only that the judge determine if finding an out-of-town jury is necessary as the case proceeds to trial.

Mathews, a 26-year-old fugitive who fled a Colorado halfway house after allegedly committing three robberies in February, came to Chattanooga with the help of a girlfriend and his sister Rachel Mathews, his mother Kathleen Mathews and father Ray Vance Mathews, according to court documents.

On April 2, police said, Mathews robbed the U.S. Money Shops on Brainerd Road, where he got into a gunfight with police. As Mathews fled the scene on foot, Chapin bumped him with his patrol car then exited the vehicle and shot Mathews with a Taser, which had little effect.

Mathews fired on Chapin with a previously concealed weapon and the two shot at each other until Mathews' bullet struck and killed Chapin, according to court testimony.

Police subdued Mathews within minutes of the shooting.

Kathleen, Ray, Rachel and Rachel's boyfriend, James Poteete, all pleaded guilty to helping Mathews after he fled Colorado. They are scheduled for federal sentencing Dec. 12.

During Tuesday's hearing, Executive Assistant District Attorney Neal Pinkston filed a motion asking that Steelman set a trial date. Cox said all evidence has been handed over to Davis and Hoss and the prosecution is ready to begin the trial.

Steelman said he would likely set a trial date at the next scheduled hearing Dec. 13.

On Tuesday, Mathews stood at the podium for the first time since his arrest in April. After the shooting, he was confined to a wheelchair because of gunshot wounds. His attorneys have addressed the court on his behalf in proceedings as he recovered.

Steelman read Mathews a waiver that cited potential conflicts of interest with the defendant's attorneys.

By signing the waiver, Mathews acknowledged that he knows the following:

* Bob and Jamie Brown, parents of Davis and Hoss employee Kevin Brown, both work in the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office. Bob is an investigator; Jamie is a secretary who files grand jury indictments.

* Davis and Hoss represented Chapin in an unrelated case.

* Davis and Hoss represent members of the local chapters of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Benevolent Association in both criminal and civil matters.

* Davis and Hoss notified the Board of Professional Responsibility of these potential conflicts and the board ruled there were no actual conflicts of interest.

* If convicted, Mathews might not be allowed to raise these issues on any appeal.

Court filings also show that Davis and Hoss have requested funding for their investigator to travel to Florida on behalf of the case and for a psychological evaluation of Mathews before the trial.

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts must approve the funding requests, paid for with money from the state indigent defense fund.