One of Tennessee's three senior judges has been appointed to preside over the appeal of a second-degree murder conviction that Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump is accused of securing under threat of blackmail.
In an order filed Wednesday, Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeffrey Bivins appointed Senior Judge Don Ash to hear the case.
Senior judges are former trial and appellate court judges who may be assigned on a temporary basis to any state court as needed, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts. They are appointed to four-year terms by the Supreme Court.
Ash is the third judge to be appointed to the case, as two others recused themselves.
A hearing is set to take place on Oct. 9 to determine whether Crump's entire office should be removed from any involvement in the appeals process, though that hearing likely will be rescheduled for a later date.
The allegations, which Crump has denied, came to light when Chattanooga attorney Bill Speek filed a series of motions seeking a new trial for his client, Miranda Cheatham, who was convicted in the 2016 killing of her husband, James Cheatham. She was sentenced to 18 years in prison, though she has maintained she was acting in self-defense.
The motions allege several instances of misconduct by the prosecutors who tried the case — Coty Wamp and Drew Robinson — and detail an allegedly incriminating recorded conversation between murder victim James Cheatham's siblings.
In it, James Cheatham's sister claims 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" in prosecuting the case.
The recording was never produced at trial despite prosecutors having been made aware of it by the Cleveland Police Department. Police Chief Mark Gibson was the only person who listened to the recording until after the trial, according to prosecutors.
In their response to Speek's motions, Crump and assistant district attorney Paul Moyle said there never was an affair.
They claim the recording was actually a ploy to get Crump removed from the case because the victim's family member who created it had been "very dissatisfied with the pace of the investigation and at a meeting in May 2017 stated that if our office didn't charge Miranda Cheatham quickly he would see that someone else prosecuted the case."
Since the appeal began, the original trial judge — Judge Andrew Freiberg — recused himself, citing exposure to "pervasive sources of alleged information, opinions and commentary about this case preventing the continued ability to be a fair and impartial jurist."
Judge Justin Angel was then appointed, though he, too, recused himself. He said that, after reviewing the pleadings in the case, he discovered a conflict and decided to recuse himself last week. The conflict was not disclosed.