Defense calls new case against Cleveland triple slaying suspect 'tainted'

photo Michael Younger, left, recently re-indicted on charges stemming from the 1999 Valentine's Day triple slaying in Cleveland, Tenn., sits with investigator Jack Lakin, who works for defense attorney Susan Shipley, in Bradley County Criminal Court on Tuesday.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood will consider motions made to dismiss charges stemming from a March 2014 re-indictment of Michael Younger, a suspect in the 1999 Valentine's Day triple slaying here.

On Tuesday, Susan Shipley, Younger's attorney, argued the new charges should be dropped in light of due-process violations caused by conflicts of interest with former prosecutor Richard Fisher and other members of the 10th Judicial District Attorney's Office.

"Clearly, his [Fisher's] actions were tainted because he had an interest in vindicating his own personal and professional reputation when he presented the case," Shipley said.

In June, Blackwood granted Shipley's motion to recuse Fisher based on those conflicts of interest.

Younger and co-defendants Twanna "Tart" Blair and Maurice Johnson were accused of killing Dawn Rogers, Cayci Higgins and Orienthal "O.J." Blair. The victims were found shot execution-style in a Cleveland apartment.

Younger's 2010 trial ended in a mistrial due to prosecutorial misconduct. Johnson was convicted of three counts of murder and sentenced to life. He is seeking post-conviction relief. Blair was found not guilty at her trial and Fisher's reindictment of her earlier this year was dismissed on grounds of double jeopardy.

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Fisher resigned from his position as an unpaid, part-time district attorney after obtaining the new indictment against Younger this spring. The charges include two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit especially aggravated robbery, especially aggravated robbery, felony murder and first-degree murder.

Former 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb then recused his office from the case, citing a conflict of interest related to a feud with the first judge and a former detective on the case. He asked that Fisher be named prosecutor pro tem in Younger's trial.

Shipley also accused the prosecution of "saving back a charge" against Younger in her second motion to dismiss the case against him.

However, current District Attorney Steve Crump argued that the new indictment should stand.

"The grand jury is an independent body exercising independent jurisdiction who can hear facts from ... anyone they choose to hear from," Crump said.

He said the defense has presented no evidence to support the allegations.

Crump also asked the judge to review any censure associated with assistant prosecutor Paul Rush, who also worked on the previous case against Younger, stating that he was censured only for failing to report himself for misconduct.

According to Times Free Press archives, the censure by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility was on two counts: failing to self-report for misconduct, and disobeying a judge's order.

Bebb and Fisher, who had been subpoenaed to appear at the hearing, were not called to the witness stand by either Shipley or Crump.

"I don't know why she didn't call me up," Bebb said after the hearing. "I might have been able to give her some information that would help her."

A ruling on the motions to dismiss would be made in a week, Blackwood said.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Contact him at

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