Watch video on Youtube »

After six attorneys, four years and one abandoned deal, John "Cutthroat" Simpson will spend the next two decades in prison.

Simpson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder Tuesday morning. Serving as his own counsel -- a judge allowed his sixth attorney to withdraw Monday afternoon -- Simpson reached the deal just hours before jury selection was scheduled to begin in his trial.

The plea signaled the end of a years-long saga that saw Simpson accused not only of murder, but of attempting to delay his trial by firing one attorney after another.

some text
John Thomas Simpson

"It was very clear that he would do anything not to have a trial," Assistant District Attorney General Cameron Williams said Tuesday after the plea.

Simpson is one of four men charged in the 2010 shooting death of Bernard Hughes, 46. Since his arrest, he has moved through six attorneys, several of whom he fired and filed complaints against with the Board of Professional Responsibility. Simpson pleaded guilty to the murder in January 2013, and agreed to testify against his co-defendants, including Harold Butler. But at Butler's trial, Simpson refused to honor that part of the deal, and his offer of between 15 and 25 years in prison was withdrawn.

In September, after Simpson fired his fourth attorney on the eve of trial, Hamilton County Judge Don Poole warned that making the same move again would mean representing himself.

On Monday, Poole made good on that warning.

Mike Acuff, Simpson's latest and last attorney, filed to withdraw as his counsel Friday afternoon. At a Monday hearing he said he and Simpson had come to a disagreement that they couldn't move past without Acuff compromising his ethical standards.

Simpson asked for another attorney, but Poole refused. He ordered Simpson and Acuff to work out their differences, but ultimately determined that Simpson would represent himself with Acuff's assistance.

Under the terms of Simpson's Tuesday plea, he will serve 25 years for second-degree murder with a concurrent eight years for attempted second-degree murder. Charges of employing a firearm in the commission of a dangerous felony and aggravated robbery were dismissed.

After the plea deal was done, the victim's twin sister embraced District Attorney General Neal Pinkston and barely made it out of the courtroom before she broke into sobs.

Her daughter, Carressa Hall, said the family is disappointed with the sentence. They came to the courthouse Tuesday expecting a trial, and they believed Simpson would receive a longer sentence. Butler and Unjolee Moore are already serving life sentences for Hughes' killing. Steven Ballou was sentenced to 13 years in prison in connection with Hughes' death.

"To me, twenty-five years isn't enough for what my uncle had to go through, and what my mother and grandmother had to go through," Hall said.

Contact staff writer Claire Wiseman at or 423-757-6347. Follow her on Twitter @clairelwiseman.