Prosecutors unveil previously unseen evidence of Cortez Sims' mother's alleged role in Bianca Horton slaying

Two-year-old Zoey Duncan hugs her mother Bianca Horton while at their apartment on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016.
photo In this April 4, 2017, staff file photo, Cortez Sims walks into Judge Barry Steeleman's courtroom at the start of his trial.

An attempt to reduce bond Wednesday in one of the state's gang racketeering cases came close to backfiring when prosecutors introduced evidence that a defense attorney said she hadn't seen yet.

Chenika Ramsey asked Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz to consider reducing her $75,000 bail, with her attorney detailing the 42-year-old's two-decade work history and family ties to Chattanooga.

Ramsey, who had no prior criminal history, previously made $2,500 bail when prosecutors charged 54 people with conspiring to help the Athens Park Bloods street gang in March.

But Ramsey returned to custody after prosecutors unveiled a new set of accusations earlier this month, including charges that she and her daughter, Coynesha Sims, helped facilitate the May 2016 murder of state's witness Bianca Horton. Prosecutors say Athens Park Bloods members kidnapped and killed Horton to stop her from testifying against Ramsey's son, Cortez Sims, then awaiting trial for a 2015 shooting that injured Horton and paralyzed her toddler, then 2. Talitha Bowman, 20, died in that shooting, and a jury convicted Sims of first-degree murder and other charges in April 2017.

photo Inside the courts building Wednesday, Derrick Shaw, brother of Bianca Horton, tells the media he forgives whoever killed his sister at the announcement that the Hamilton County Grand Jury has indicted 54 gang members utilizing the RICO Act. The Act defines them as a criminal organization.

"Bond should be set in the amount lowest that will reasonably assure a defendant's appearance in court and that will assure the safety of the public," Ramsey's defense attorney, Stephanie Rogers, argued Wednesday. "[Ramsey]'s been out on bond since the original presentment was issued. She's been to court. She turned herself in to be able to be here today. She's not going to flee the jurisdiction."

Prosecutors countered by outlining Ramsey's associations with charged gang members and introducing two phone calls in which the 42-year-old allegedly discusses Horton's murder.

In one February 2016 phone call, prosecutors said, Ramsey asked about the plan to free "her little homie," referring to her son. In another, after Horton's death, Ramsey described herself as a "middle man" and expressed remorse about something.

Christopher Blackwell, an investigator with the District Attorney's Cold Case Unit, paraphrased Ramsey's phone call this way: "If I'd have known it was going to go this far, I would not have allowed it to happen."

"What I'm asking is, is that all the evidence to connect her [to this case]?" Rogers asked.

"That's the evidence we're presenting today," Blackwell replied.

Rogers said Wednesday's hearing added to the "little information" she'd been provided about Ramsey's alleged role in the case. Before Wednesday's hearing, Rogers said she'd never heard these phone calls and said the state probably had this evidence when it first indicted Ramsey on fewer and less severe racketeering conspiracy charges.

But Judge Greenholtz said the evidence was compelling.

"The first presentment didn't suggest a whole lot against [Ramsey]," he said. "Here, she's facing a Class A felony offense with 15 to 25 years, with proof that seems, just based upon what we've heard here today, to be pretty compelling. In fact, what I'm considering is raising the bond."

Rogers ultimately withdrew Ramsey's motion to reduce bond. Prosecutors separately agreed to reduce her daughter's bond to $50,000 instead of having a second hearing.

In their first March presentment, prosecutors charged the Athens Park Bloods gang with dealing illegal drugs, committing robberies and arson, lying to authorities about their crimes, using the proceeds of illegal activities to bail other members out of jail and pay legal fees and coordinating plans over partially untraced three-way phone calls with incarcerated members. They charged 54 people with at least participating in the conspiracy. Others faced additional murder charges for previously unsolved homicides.

But the presentment did not outline what prior crimes most of the defendants committed in furtherance of the gang. Many defense attorneys pushed the state for more information and evidence, prompting prosecutors to hand over several hours of jailhouse phone calls. Rogers, for instance, estimated that she'd received about 800 calls Ramsey had with people in custody.

Eventually, prosecutors unveiled a new presentment earlier this month with more details on each defendant's prior crimes. The next court date is Sept. 24, when every defendant will be arraigned on the charges contained in the new presentment.

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