Bradley County Criminal Court Judge Andrew Mark Freiberg has recused himself from a case in which Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump is being accused by a convicted murderer of having been blackmailed into securing her conviction at a 2018 trial.
Crump has denied the allegations, which 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.
"Living and residing within this community has meant exposure to pervasive sources of alleged information, opinions and commentary about this case preventing the continued ability to be a fair and impartial jurist," Freiberg wrote in his order of recusal filed earlier this month.
His recusal does not affect the upcoming hearing scheduled for Oct. 9 and his order to bring Miranda Cheatham back to Bradley County on Oct. 1. That is, pending future directives of a newly assigned judge.
Freiberg's order of recusal was submitted to Judge J. Michael Sharp, the district's current presiding judge. He could appoint a new judge or he could ask the Administrative Office of the Courts to step in.
The defense's 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 murder victim 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. She admits to threatening to "f—- his whole life up" by airing their alleged affair if "something didn't happen soon" in prosecuting the case.
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 allegations 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.
Contact Rosana Hughes at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.
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