Judge sets trial date for detective charged with perjury in Ooltewah High School rape case

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 Gatlinburg, Tenn., police detective charged with making false statements during a hearing in the Ooltewah rape case is heading to trial in March, unless a judge agrees to dismiss the case first.

Judge Tom Greenholtz asked Thursday for two more weeks to rule on Rodney Burns' motion to dismiss and set a jury trial date in the meantime for March 20. Greenholtz also asked attorneys to file any other motions in the case by Feb. 12.

Burns faces two counts of aggravated perjury, a Class D felony that carries two to four years in prison, for making false statements during a Juvenile Court hearing in February 2016 for the three former Ooltewah High School employees charged with failure to report child sexual abuse in 2015. Those coaches ended up in Criminal Court, where two got their charges dismissed while a third accepted an alternative sentence and completed community service.

According to his indictment, Burns 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." But on the stand in February 2016, Burns testified "there was no rape or torture, no screams of anguish."

Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into Burns as a result of that hearing. Those agents concluded there was enough evidence for a perjury case and prosecutors secured an indictment in May 2016.

Since then, Burns' defense attorneys have tried to dismiss the case. First, they argued Burns' statements never affected the outcome of that hearing, which is necessary for a perjury case. Greenholtz ruled against that motion, saying attorneys could litigate the issue at trial.

Next, they said Hamilton County Juvenile Court was not the right venue to try a criminal case for three adult men, so any statements stemming from that proceeding needed to be dismissed.

If Greenholtz rules against that argument, Burns' attorneys have said they will appeal his decision to a higher court.

"The court's already on notice that would be a possible path you would seek," Greenholtz said.

"We're on notice for that, as well," Pinkston said.

The next court date is a check-up on Feb. 19.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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