Trial date set in case that led to firing of Chattanooga police detective

James Leon Works Jr., an accused rapist, appears before Judge Barry A Steelman on the third floor of the Hamilton County Courthouse on September 25, 2014. Chattanooga police officer Karl Fields investigated the crime and was put on administrative leave after the alleged victim told the district attorney's office that Fields tried to have a sexual relationship with her while he investigated the crime.

James Leon Works, whose arrest last year triggered a criminal investigation into a Chattanooga detective, will go to trial in September.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman set Works' trial date Tuesday morning. He faces charges of possession of a prohibited weapon, possession of marijuana, possession of methamphetamine, making methamphetamine, aggravated assault, kidnapping and rape.

Detective Karl Fields investigated Works' case. But in August, Works' alleged victim accused Fields of sexual harassment. She said Fields tried to kiss her, lurked outside her home and asked her for nude pictures.

photo Chattanooga Police Department detective Karl Fields

The victim's accusations, coupled with text messages to support her claim, led Chattanooga police to investigate their own detective. In March, they fired Fields. He remains under criminal investigation.

Because the Hamilton County prosecutors used to work with Fields, the local district attorney's office recused its staff from the Works case. Cynthia Schemel, a prosecutor called in from Bradley County, said she will be ready to bring Works to trial on Sept. 22.

She will prosecute him for the drug arrests, but did not mention the rape accusations. She may prosecute those charges later, she said.

Acting on a tip, according to a Chattanooga police incident report, officers found Works asleep in his room at the Red Roof Inn on Shallowford Road. They also found 34 grams of what they believed to be methamphetamine and 4 grams of what they believed to be marijuana.

On Tuesday, Works told the judge he wanted new attorneys because of "the corruption in the city right now." Public defenders Mike Little and Blake Murchison were set to represent him.

Works said one of his attorneys promised to get his charges dismissed in March because of Fields' sullied reputation. Two months later, nothing has happened. Standing next to Works on Tuesday, Murchison said he didn't know anything about the promise of a dismissal.

Works said the promise must have come from Little.

"It's 'good lawyer, bad lawyer' playing against me," he said. "I don't understand what is happening."

He then whispered something to his attorney.

"Mr. Works has just advised me he would like to have me removed from the case," Murchison said. "If he feels as though the public defender's office cannot represent him ... I do have concerns."

Before making any decision, Steelman told Works to meet with both his lawyers at the same time. If he still wanted a new lawyer, he could file a motion.

He added more advice: If Works wants the case to get dismissed, he's asking too much of his defense attorney. The prosecutor will decide whether to drop the case.

"You are not an attorney," Steelman told Works, who remains in the Hamilton County Jail in lieu of a $360,000 bond. "I am not trying to talk you into doing anything in particular. I can tell you it doesn't help to change attorneys in the middle of a case."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at [email protected] or 423-757-6476.