Courthouse takeover case set to go to trial

MADISONVILLE, Tenn. - An East Tennessee judge Tuesday refused to dismiss charges against a military retiree and a former militiaman accused of intruding on a grand jury they said ignored a demand to charge President Barack Obama with treason.

Naval retiree Walter Fitzpatrick III, 56, of Sweetwater, Tenn., has been challenging grand jury panels throughout the country, charging that grand jury foremen and forewomen have become "tools" of prosecutors and judges.

On April 1, he barged into a closed grand jury meeting to make a citizens' arrest of Monroe County Grand Jury Foreman Gary Pettway.

Darren Wesley Huff, 41, of Dalton, Ga., after hearing of Fitzpatrick's arrest in Madisonville, led a group of armed individuals there "to take over the town" and help Fitzpatrick on April 20, the day the retiree was to be arraigned.

In June, their efforts were met with Monroe County indictments from the very grand jury process they are protesting.

Fitzpatrick now is charged with riot, disrupting a meeting or procession, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, retaliation of past action and civil rights intimidation. Huff is charged with riot, disrupting a meeting and retaliation for a past action.

Fitzpatrick's and Huff's attorney, Stephen Pidgeon, of Everett, Wash., argued Tuesday that their indictment was invalid because the grand jury forewoman had served in a previous term and was appointed and serving incorrectly when they were indicted.

Monroe County District Attorney Jim Stutts countered that five Tennessee court rulings have found there is no limit on the number of two-year terms for which a foreperson may be reappointed.

"These people are dangerous," Stutts said after the judge denied the dismissal request. "They think they can make up their own law."

Pidgeon and Fitzpatrick said they plan a post-trial appeal over the "tainted" indictment.

"It's just more corruption," Fitzpatrick said after Special Circuit Judge Jon Blackwood set Dec. 1 as the pair's court date.

"Once the trial begins you will not be allowed to wear your uniform," Blackwood told Fitzpatrick, who sat at the defense table in his U.S. Navy lieutenant commander whites.

"I can't wear my uniform? Why?" demanded Fitzpatrick.

"I'm not arguing. I'm ordering," Blackwood shot back.

Two of the charges, retaliation and intimidation, are felonies with maximum sentences of one to two years, according to Stutts.

Huff also faces related federal charges: Transportation of a firearm in furtherance of a civil disorder and use of a firearm in relation to a felony crime of violence.

An FBI agent's affidavit said Huff told officers he and others were traveling to Madisonville to help Fitzpatrick. The affidavit states Huff had told another Georgia man that he and others planned to "take over the city" of Madison and the Monroe County Courthouse.

The agent said Huff was found to have a pistol during a traffic stop that morning, and he told officers he had an AK-47 in his truck.

The agent said surveillance in Madison later that day found Huff and more than a dozen other individuals with openly displayed and concealed firearms outside the courthouse.

"Some of these persons gathered outside the courthouse appeared to be conducting surveillance on law enforcement officers, their vehicles and police observation posts, as well as the entrances to the court building," the affidavit states.