Hearing date set in 34-year-old cold case

William "Billy" Hawk

A Hamilton County judge on Friday set a hearing date during the first appearance of Billy Hawk, the 61-year-old bowling alley owner accused in the 1981 slaying of Johnny Mack Salyer.

Wearing a red jumpsuit and ankle shackles, Hawk stood before Criminal Court Judge Don Poole, who set the first hearing in the case for Nov. 3. Hawk's attorney, Jim Logan, agreed to the date before adding, "Mr. Hawk is not guilty."

Hawk was arrested Tuesday morning at his Greene County, Tenn., home after a grand jury indicted him the day before on a first-degree murder charge and set a $500,000 bond.

"He'll be in jail unless he makes bail," said Logan, who agreed to represent Hawk on Wednesday and expedited his arraignment to Friday.

Prosecutors say Hawk is responsible for the killing of Salyer, a 27-year-old known drug dealer who was pulled from a 55-gallon steel drum floating on Chickamauga Lake on June 3, 1981. His body was so badly decomposed that authorities could not determine how he died.

photo William "Billy" Hawk

At the time, Salyer and Hawk were co-defendants in a pending cocaine distribution case. Hawk, whose father owned the Holiday Bowl on Brainerd Road, said nothing Friday in court. The arraignment lasted no more than two minutes before several lawyers and officials moved one room over to witness the swearing-in of newly appointed Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz.

While announcing the cold-case arrest earlier this week, District Attorney General Neal Pinkston said uncooperative witnesses, among other factors, kept the state from connecting the slaying to Hawk more than three decades ago. So far, the state has not released any evidence or specified what changed between 1981 and 2015.

"I'm going to be working diligently to begin to try to understand the state's foundational basis for the allegations," Logan said after Friday's hearing.

Finding key witnesses, however, could be difficult because of the number of years that have passed since the crime, he said.

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