Woodmore crash bus driver's lawyer says district attorney hid evidence, calls for judge to reconsider sentence

Woodmore crash bus driver's lawyer says district attorney hid evidence, calls for judge to reconsider sentence

May 12th, 2018 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Photo by Erin O. Smith / Johnthony Walker, 25, testifies during his criminal trial Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018 in Judge Don Poole's courtroom at the Hamilton County Courthouse in Chattanooga, Tenn. Walker was convicted in February in connection with the Nov. 21, 2016, crash that killed six Woodmore Elementary School students, and his attorney is now asking a judge to reconsider his four-year sentence.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Defense attorney Amanda Dunn talks with her client Woodmore bus driver Johnthony Walker during his sentencing hearing in Judge Don Poole's courtroom at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Courts Building on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Dunn is now asking Poole to reconsider the four-year sentence he imposed that day, saying prosecutors didn't share certain pieces of evidence.

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Defense attorney...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

A local judge should re-evaluate the four-year sentence he gave to the driver in the Woodmore Elementary School fatal bus crash case because prosecutors "actively suppressed" potentially helpful information from his legal team, a motion filed Friday states.

Defense attorney Amanda Dunn said Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston dismissed a witness's aggravated domestic assault charges the day before that witness took the stand in April and convinced a judge to give Dunn's client, Johnthony Walker, the maximum possible punishment.

Woodmore Elementary school bus crash

Dunn said she would have used that arrest to challenge the witness's credibility, except Pinkston never told her about it, despite his legal obligation as a prosecutor to share potentially helpful evidence with defendants. The arrest was then expunged from the record, court documents show.

"Mr. Walker's right to due process and fairness required the state to disclose this evidence to him," Dunn wrote. "Instead, Mr. Walker's counsel discovered these two incidents and investigated them further after the sentencing had concluded."

Pinkston's spokeswoman, Melydia Clewell, said Dunn was making "absurd accusations." She said Pinkston didn't have an obligation to share that information because the witness had proof that she was falsely accused in her aggravated domestic assault case. In February, Pinkston also dropped harassment charges against the witness when she was accused of threatening to bring a gun to an area school after her son was suspended.

Clewell said Dunn knew about that February case before the April sentencing hearing.

"If Ms. Dunn was truly concerned about credibility she would have cross examined [the witness] about her prior criminal record," Clewell wrote.

In her 21-page motion, Dunn said she might have done that, except she had no way to know that Criminal Court Judge Don Poole would base his decision largely on the witness's testimony. Dunn now wants Poole to reconsider "the length and manner" of Walker's four-year sentence because of this information. In her motion, she said Poole has 120 days from the date of sentencing to change his mind.

Poole sentenced Walker to four years in prison after an emotional hearing in April that detailed the impact the Nov. 21, 2016, crash had on the families of the 37 Woodmore schoolchildren aboard. Prosecutors said Walker, 25, caused the crash because he was using his phone and speeding, and in February a jury found him guilty on a combination of driving-related charges. Six children died in the crash.

The witness, who had a child die in the crash, testified during the April sentencing hearing and at a previous hearing in February about Walker's speeding. She continues to battle enormous grief and trauma, one of her attorneys said Friday.

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


Loading...