A woman accused in McMinn County, Tennessee, of more than 40 counts related to alleged inappropriate sexual contact with at least 18 teenage boys will face trial before jurors who were selected from her home county after a motion for a change of venue was denied by the judge in the case.
Melissa Ann Blair, 39, of Englewood, Tennessee, faces trial Aug. 8, according to documents in McMinn County Criminal Court. She faces multiple counts of aggravated statutory rape, sexual exploitation of a minor, patronizing prostitution and exploitation of a minor through electronic means, along with individual counts of other related criminal charges, documents show.
Blair's attorney sought a change of venue Friday before Criminal Court Judge Andrew Mark Freiberg based on heavy media coverage of the case since Blair's arrest and its possible effect on potential jurors. Freiberg's order rejecting a change of venue was issued Tuesday.
Other hearings in the case in 2023 are set for April 14, May 1 and Aug. 7, leading up to trial, officials said.
In his order, Freiberg said the media coverage was the most he has seen on any case since he took his seat behind the bench in 2014, but he ruled Friday against the motion for change of venue for now.
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"This court will entertain the defense raising the motion again should additional information in support thereof become available or if it appears during the jury selection process that a fair and impartial jury cannot be chosen in McMinn County," Freiberg stated in the order.
Freiberg also issued a gag order Friday in the case barring all parties in the case, from investigators to the defense team's staff, from making public comments. The order does not apply to public records related to the case nor does it impose any restraint upon media, the document states.
Due to Freiberg's gag order, District Attorney Stephen Crump and Blair's defense lawyer, Robert R. Kurtz, declined to comment when contacted Monday by phone.
An investigation was launched Dec. 9, 2021, after a referral from the Tennessee Department of Children's Services that alleged Blair had been having sexual encounters with male juveniles who were students at McMinn Central High School, authorities said. Blair turned herself in on the initial charges in February, records show. The allegations stem from incidents that occurred between spring 2020 and December 2021.
Blair was initially charged in February on indictments issued by the McMinn County grand jury on 23 criminal counts for her alleged contact with the first nine boys, including 18 counts of aggravated statutory rape, four counts of human trafficking by patronizing prostitution and one count of solicitation of a minor, court records show.
The youngest of the alleged victims in that indictment was 14, court records show.
In June, Blair was charged with 20 more counts related to nine new male alleged victims. The indictments from June's grand jury session included three counts of solicitation of a minor, four counts of soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor by electronic means, five counts of patronizing prostitution, six counts of aggravated statutory rape, sexual exploitation of a minor and sexual exploitation of a minor by electronic means, according to court records and officials. The youngest alleged victim in June was 15.
According to authorities, Blair's only connection to local schools is as a parent of students.
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Blair is accused of communicating with the boys on social media, arranging meetings with them and trading items for sexual encounters, McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy said during the beginning of the investigation.
A letter from McMinn County Director of Schools Lee Parkison to Blair in December 2021 banned her from all county school properties or activities, according to authorities.
Meanwhile, Blair remains free on a $1 million bond under court orders to stay in her car when picking up her children, and to otherwise stay off school property, according to court documents.
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.