Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump has been accused of withholding evidence in a 2018 murder trial in order to hide an alleged affair for which he was purportedly being blackmailed into securing a conviction, according to a motion filed in Bradley County Criminal Court on Friday.
The motion, filed by attorney Bill Speek, professes to detail a recording of a conversation between the siblings of James Cheatham, who was shot and killed in 2016 during a domestic dispute in Cleveland, Tennessee, on Halloween morning.
Cheatham's wife, Miranda Cheatham, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 18 years in prison, the Cleveland Daily Banner reported at the time.
Miranda Cheatham is seeking an acquittal or at least a new trial, as her defense says it it obtained a recording on July 16 of the allegedly incriminating conversation, arguing it "casts serious doubts on the validity and honesty of the prosecution in this case."
Speek declined comment Saturday morning, stating that the motion speaks for itself.
Crump issued a statement to the Times Free Press saying he could not comment fully on the case, but he did call the allegations untrue.
"There was no inappropriate conduct of any kind by me or my office," he said in the statement, although he did not specifically deny an affair.
According to the defense motion, the recording includes discussion of an affair between Crump and James Cheatham's sister, Dana Cheatham, and that Dana Cheatham "was effectively threatening/blackmailing D.A. Crump to prosecute the case at issue and to obtain a conviction."
Motion for continuanceView
In the conversation, James Cheatham's half-brother John Loach allegedly asks Dana Cheatham about the affair and said he had photos showing her and Crump together.
During the conversation, Dana Cheatham eventually confessed the affair to Loach, according to the motion.
She reportedly told Loach that, for years, Crump had been one of her massage clients, and he allegedly mishandled a personal lawsuit of hers and "forced her to give professional massage services to his wife and children as a form of payment."
According to the court filing, she then went on to say she'd made it known to Crump that she was "willing to use the affair if required to get Mrs. Cheatham convicted for the death of" her brother. And if "something didn't happen soon" with the case, "she would would make public the fact that they had 'slept together' and that she would 'f —— his whole life up.'"
She reportedly said Crump assured her that "justice would be served and that 'it would be done,'" according to the motion.
"Dana Cheatham went on to recount when she had actually threatened DA Crump to his face about his handling of the present matter," the defense filing recounts. "She stated that he assured her that nothing in his personal life would affect his handling of decedent's case."
In his statement Saturday morning, Crump denied being pressured.
"There was no threat, coercion, extortion, or duress offered against me, anyone in my office or in law enforcement in this case by Dana Cheatham. Nor has any person ever done that in any case I have ever prosecuted," his statement said.
Crump said he had never heard the alleged recording and "knew nothing of its contents" until he read the pleading on social media, though he noted the Cleveland Police Department notified him that "there was a recording which alleged misconduct on my part."
"I told them not to share any information about the recording with me. I advised them that they should conduct an independent inquiry to the extent they believed appropriate. If they found even a remote basis to investigate further, I told them I would ask the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference to appoint a district attorney pro tem and request that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation assist them. There was never a request for either."
Cleveland Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Evie West said that as soon as investigators were made aware of the recording, its existence and content were discussed with Crump.
"As with all investigations, our protocol is to submit all materials of the case to the District Attorney's Office and it is at their discretion as to what appropriate action needs to be taken based on relevance and evidentiary value in prosecution," she said.
In his statement, Crump added that he wasn't directly involved in the litigation or presentment to the grand jury, as alleged in the defense filing. The case was prosecuted by two of his assistant district attorneys: Drew Robinson and Coty Wamp.
Wamp recently joined the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in a newly created position as the department's general counsel.
In the Miranda Cheatham case, Crump said he "did not participate in the trying of the case, although when asked for my opinion on an issue, I gave my best advice as I do in every case that comes into this office."
At Miranda Cheatham's sentencing hearing, Bradley County Criminal Court Judge Andrew Mark Freiberg took notice that James Cheatham's children did not voice much support for their father during their victim impact statements, the Cleveland Daily Banner reported.
"No immediate family member has testified on his behalf," Freiberg said, according to the newspaper. "They are wholly supportive of the defendant. What does it mean when his own children won't testify for him?"
James Cheatham's mother did speak on her son's behalf, according to the Banner, but the children later said they had no relationship with their grandmother.
Miranda Cheatham's defense argues the case is a "textbook example of when a discovery violation should result in acquittal. The withholding of the recording by the state has resulted in irreparable harm to Mrs. Cheatham's defense."
"If DA Crump was being blackmailed to prosecute the case, then it is safe to say that justice and truth played no part in the process," Speek wrote in his motion.
He claims the recording was in the possession of police investigators and that its existence was known, or should have been known, to prosecutors before the trial that took place.
"Nonetheless, the recording was never produced to defense counsel during discovery," Speek argued, noting that had the defense been aware, it would have been able to investigate its contents as part of the defense strategy and requested Crump's complete recusal from the prosecution.
"It is inconceivable that Mrs. Cheatham received a fair trial if the prosecuting DA was being blackmailed/threatened to secure a conviction," Speek argued, pointing out that it's highly likely that evidence that could clear Miranda Cheatham of guilt was kept from the defense if Crump was indeed being blackmailed to obtain a conviction.
"The failure to produce the recording was not inadvertent, but was most likely calculated to not only avoid casting genuine and well-founded doubt on the prosecution and ultimate conviction, but also to shield DA Crump of any embarrassment the recording may produce," Speek wrote.
For his part, Crump said, the case was "prosecuted justly and ethically. A jury of the defendant's peers heard the relevant evidence and spoke with clarity and force and they said 'guilty.'"
He said his office will soon be filing a complete response to the motion in court.
Contact Rosana Hughes at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @Hughes Rosana.