The attorneys for a woman convicted of second-degree murder are asking a judge to disqualify 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump's entire office from the case after the chief prosecutor was accused of withholding evidence in order to hide an alleged affair for which he was purportedly being blackmailed into securing a conviction.
Chattanooga attorney Bill Speek's motion comes on the heels of another motion that details 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, though she's maintained she was acting in self-defense.
In the recording, James Cheatham's sister, Dana Cheatham, confesses to a prior affair with Crump and admits to threatening to "f------ his whole life up" by airing their alleged affair if "something didn't happen soon."
Miranda Cheatham's defense is seeking an acquittal or at least a new trial, and they don't want Crump's office involved in any of it.
They argue "multiple impermissible acts of prosecutorial misconduct" by the assistant district attorneys who tried the case — Drew Robinson and Coty Wamp — in addition to the allegedly incriminating recording that was never produced at trial despite prosecutors having been made aware of it by the Cleveland Police Department.
The acts of misconduct were a "flagrant violation of Mrs. Cheatham's constitutional rights," Speek, Miranda Cheatham's attorney, argues.
Speek declined to comment Wednesday, stating only that the motions speak for themselves.
Crump issued a statement to the Times Free Press on Wednesday, saying his office received the motion on Tuesday and is reviewing it to respond in conjunction with the previous motions.
"There is not a basis in fact or law that would require the recusal of this office," he said.
The latest motion cites a Times Free Press article in which Crump offers a statement claiming he knew nothing of the recording's contents and told Cleveland police to not share any information about it with him.
However, Speek notes, a statement from the Cleveland Police Department, included in the same newspaper article, "directly refutes D.A. Crump's claims."
Police spokeswoman Sgt. Evie West told the Times Free Press that, as soon as investigators were made aware of the recording, its existence and content were discussed with Crump.
Additionally, the motion makes a new allegation: that Crump practiced private law, something that is prohibited of a DA by Tennessee law, on behalf of his alleged blackmailer.
In December 2018, Crump prepared quit claim deeds on behalf of Dana Cheatham, according to copies of two deeds attached to the motion.
Read Crump's statementView
The first deed was prepared after Miranda Cheatham was indicted but before the trial. Another deed was prepared in June of this year. On each deed, the attorney of record is Crump, who lists his private firm — Crump & Richardson PLLC, which is listed as an active entity in the Tennessee Secretary of State's database.
Speek argues that Crump's involvement with preparing the deeds while he holds the office of district attorney is an inherent conflict of interest.
To that, Crump said, "I have not practiced law outside those duties [as DA]. I have maintained my ownership of a title company that existed before I was elected. That office does not engage in the practice or business of law. My ownership of that title company has never interfered with the performance of my duties."
Ultimately, Speek argues, even if there is no actual conflict of interest, the court must "nonetheless consider whether the conduct in question created an appearance of impropriety."
The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that a conflict of interest exists when an attorney cannot exercise his or her independent professional judgment free of "compromising interests and loyalties."
Read the motion to disqualify DA's officeView
And an appearance of impropriety exists when "an ordinary knowledgeable citizen acquainted with the facts" of a case would conclude that the attorney's interests pose a "substantial risk of disservice to either the public interest or the interest of one of the [parties]."
Speek argues the conflict exists, and that Crump's entire office has been affected by it.
As the chief prosecutor, Crump "oversees the activities of the entire office," and "it would be difficult to eliminate his influence entirely," Speek notes in the motion.
Additionally, because the case has "appeared in news articles exposing D.A. Crump's prosecutorial misconduct-and because the 10th Judicial District Attorney General's Office may now have an opportunity to retry her case, it is highly improbable that [the] case has not been a subject of discussion within the office and highly improbably that D.A. Crump has shielded himself from such discussions," Speek writes.