Only adult still facing charges in Ooltewah rape case plans to appeal to higher court

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 8/23/16. Gatlinburg Police Detective Rodney Burns speaks to his attorney Bryan Delius before appearing in Judge Tom Greenholtz's criminal courtroom on charges of perjury following his testimony in the Ooltewah High School rape case earlier this year.

The only adult still facing charges in connection with the Ooltewah High School rape case plans to appeal a local judge's decision allowing Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston to prosecute his case.

Gatlinburg Police Department Detective Rodney Burns faces two counts of aggravated perjury in connection with his February testimony in the rape case. The offense is a class D felony that carries a sentence of between two and four years in prison.

Burns claims Pinkston should not be allowed to prosecute his case because of a conflict of interest, and he disagrees with Greenholtz's October ruling that allows Pinkston to continue prosecuting.

Greenholtz granted Burns' request for an interlocutory appeal Wednesday morning, which allows Burns to ask the Tennessee Court of Appeals to look into the judge's decision.

"The court believes it has applied the right standard," Greenholtz said. "But I am never under the opinion that I am the one that has all the answers."

If the higher court chooses not to reverse Greenholtz's decision, a jury trial is scheduled to begin June 27. Greenholtz chose to go ahead and set a trial date in order to keep the case moving forward in case Burns' appeal is denied.

"The case is getting kind of old already," Greenholtz said. "And part of that is the court's fault, as it's taken some time to consider the motions for disqualification."

After Wednesday's hearing, Burns' attorney, Bryan Delius, said it's unusual to take a case to the appellate before a conviction.

"As the court mentioned, this is an unsettled area of the law," Delius said. "There are not cases out there in Tennessee that make determination of what the court should do in this case."

Pinkston asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into Burns' testimony last February, and in May the TBI concluded that Burns gave untruthful testimony. Days later, Burns was booked into the Hamilton County Jail on the perjury charges.

During Burns' testimony in February, he referred to the pool-cue rape of the 15-year-old as "something stupid kids do." He said the perpetrators received no sexual gratification from the act, so he did not consider it a sexual assault.

According to the grand jury indictment in May, Burns "unlawfully and with intent to deceive" made two false statements under oath during that testimony.

Burns testified in a previous hearing that "there was no rape or torture, no screams of anguish." But previously he wrote in police reports that someone told him "the victim yelled out in pain" and another person said "he could hear [the victim] yelling when they had attacked," according to the indictment.

In previous court proceedings, Burns filed a $300,000 defamation lawsuit against Pinkston for publicly accusing him of perjury. In July, Burns filed a motion asking that Pinkston be removed from prosecuting his case, claiming it was a conflict of interest.

Pinkston argued that he asked the TBI to investigate Burns a month before the civil lawsuit was filed. He said a series of problems will arise if defendants, such as Burns, are able to file civil lawsuits and have prosecutors removed from their cases.

Pinkston also previously alleged on multiple occasions he was contacted on Burns' behalf and was told the civil lawsuit would be dropped if he stopped prosecuting the case.

Burns' attorneys refuted that, saying a local attorney may have told Pinkston that, but he was not acting on behalf of Burns' defense.

When denying Burns' motion to dismiss, Greenholtz wrote, "it is clear that the mere filing of a civil lawsuit against a prosecutor does not automatically create a disqualifying conflict of interest for a prosecutor."

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.