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some text Judge Barry Steelman
some text Cortez Sims
some text Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 1/7/16. Two-year-old Zoey Duncan hugs her mother Bianca Horton while at their apartment on Thursday, January 7, 2016. One year ago a gunman opened fire in a College Hill Courts apartment, killing a 20-year-old woman and wounding three others, including 1-year-old Zoey Duncan, who barely survived. Zoey was paralyzed from the waist down. A year later, she now gets around in a tiny toddler-sized pink wheelchair.

With a television camera trained on his face, Judge Barry Steelman discussed the media storm swirling around one of the most high-profile murder cases on his docket.

During a court hearing Thursday, Steelman said he didn't want to comment further on Cortez Sims with at least three media members present. He set a new court date — Aug. 8 — and said attorneys could debate a slew of motions then.

As he spoke Sims, a 19-year-old accused of killing one woman and shooting two other adults and a toddler in a 2015 shooting at College Hill Courts, stood quietly in his jail jumpsuit.

So far, Cortez's defense attorney, Brandy Spurgin, has argued in a series of motions that a black hoodie shouldn't be included as evidence because authorities never proved it belonged to Sims; that her client should get a reduced bond, and that his first-degree murder trial needs to be moved to a different venue because of adverse publicity surrounding not just Cortez's charges, but the death of a witness in the case.

Bianca Horton, 26, was injured in the 2015 shooting and testified against Sims. In May she was found dead in the 2100 block of Elder Street. Though authorities speculated retaliation played a role in her death, they never publicly confirmed it.

Spurgin's motions, filed in June, carry requests to suppress Horton's photo identification of Sims and any mention of Sims' alleged gang affiliation.

At the time of the shooting, on camera and at the scene, Horton said she did not know who was responsible for the shooting, according to Spurgin's motion. It was only after law enforcement told her that another witness knew the assailant that "Ms. Horton stated she could probably identify the shooter," the motion states.

And then, the motion states, three hours after she heard law enforcement repeat his name, Horton identified Sims in a photo lineup.

"By this time," states the motion, filed last week, "any identification made by Ms. Horton had been trained by the suggestiveness of outside information."

As for alleged gang affiliation, "the court should exclude such evidence," says one motion, "because it is highly prejudicial, has no relevance, and has no bearing on the issue of the defendant's guilt or innocence."

Spurgin's motion asks attorneys to discuss the issue before trial because "an oral objection during the trial, even if sustained, will likely not relieve the prejudicial effect of such evidence."

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

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