Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump is denying allegations of an affair or that he was blackmailed into securing a conviction in a 2018 second-degree murder trial.
Allegations of the affair and blackmail 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 killing of her husband, James Cheatham, in 2016. She was sentenced to 18 years in prison, though she has maintained she was acting in self-defense.
The motions detailed several instances of alleged misconduct by the prosecutors who tried the case — Coty Wamp and Drew Robinson.
They also detail an allegedly incriminating recorded conversation between James Cheatham's siblings that was never produced at trial despite prosecutors having been made aware of it by the Cleveland Police Department, though police Chief Mark Gibson was the only person who listened to the recording until after the trial, according to prosecutors.
In the recording, James Cheatham's sister, Dana Cheatham, confesses after being confronted by her brother John Loach that she had 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."
Loach recorded the conversation because he'd heard rumors of two affairs: one between Crump and Dana Cheatham and another between Crump and another woman who was friends with the defendant, Miranda Cheatham.
There has been no evidence of the second affair, and Crump denied the allegation to the Times Free Press.
But at the time, Loach suspected the rumored affairs were holding up the investigation, he says in the recording, so he confronted his sister in an attempt to learn the truth.
Speek, in his motions, has said the recording is evidence that Dana Cheatham "was effectively threatening/blackmailing D.A. Crump to prosecute the case at issue and to obtain a conviction." And for that reason, Miranda Cheatham's defense is seeking to have Crump's entire office removed from any involvement in her fight for a new trial.
Crump is opposed to that.
No affair, no blackmail
In their response to Speek's motions, Crump and assistant district attorney Paul Moyle said there never was an affair, and that the recording itself is evidence that there was never any blackmail.
They base that claim on what they say are multiple contradictions in the recording, as well as a comment made by Dana Cheatham stating that she always took someone with her to speak to Crump because she didn't want him "to say that I did anything or used anything or tried to set him up."
State's response to motion to disqualifyView
"That quote is inconsistent with any claim of blackmail having been accomplished prior to the making of the recording," Crump and Moyle write. "In fact, it is the antithesis of blackmail."
However, in the recording, Dana Cheatham does say that her father was with her when she allegedly threatened Crump.
"Even if he was screwing [the other woman], I think he knows me well enough — and I threatened him! I sent you [Loach] those messages. I threatened him. Like I told him, I would do at all costs whatever it took to make sure everybody knew —
"That he was having an affair?" Loach interjects.
"That he was doing something," Dana Cheatham responds.
"So you told Crump this?" Loach asks.
"Yes, I told Crump that when my dad was right there with me. Not in the presence, but I was on the phone with him," she responds.
It's not clear if she meant that Crump or her father was on the phone.
Dana Cheatham goes on to say that Crump responded to the threat with "a big, long text message" saying that "'justice will be served. I promise you it will be done.'"
That is the message she claimed to have sent to Loach.
Crump, however, told the Times Free Press he has "never received a threatening text message such as any of the ones alleged in the recording."
Crump's office claims the recording was a ploy to get Crump removed from the case because Loach 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."
Loach told the Times Free Press that allegation is a "barefaced lie" and that he'd like to hear the recording of that 2017 meeting. Dana Cheatham was the only one who made that threat, he said, and he wouldn't have known how to get a DA removed from a case.
Affidavits attached to the state's responseView
Crump and Moyle also denied any withholding of evidence because the recording "did not have any evidence about the homicide or other criminal activity" and was therefore never entered into the case file.
In an affidavit attached to Crump's response, Chief Gibson said he didn't consider the recording evidence because it "did not talk about any potential witness, nor did it contain any information about the homicide."
Being a sibling of a homicide victim does not make one a witness unless one possesses relevant and admissible evidence related to the crime, Moyle told the Times Free Press. In this case, Loach and Dana Cheatham could not provide any relevant information, he said, adding that Loach had previously said he hadn't spoken to his brother in a number of years.
Apart from Gibson, no one else listened to the recording.
It's not clear why Gibson alone listened to it, but he chose not to notify the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation because "the recording didn't even raise a suspicion of anything in my mind," according to his affidavit.
"It lacked credibility to me," Gibson said in the document.
Gibson said Crump offered his cell phone for investigators to look through, but they declined to do so.
Additionally, Crump said he offered to discuss potential conflicts of interest with Amy Reedy, Miranda Cheatham's trial attorney, and offered to recuse himself if necessary.
The potential conflicts involved Crump previously being Dana Cheatham's lawyer and him having been her massage therapy client. It's not clear whether Reedy was made aware of the recording.
Ultimately, Reedy did not seek to have Crump recuse himself.