MARYVILLE, TN – Blount County Circuit Judge Tammy Harrington today denied Larry Joe Wheelon’s Motion To Dismiss the December 2013, 18 count indictment against him. The Court did not set a trial date in the case. Larry Joe Wheelon was not present in the courtroom today.
Regarding the ruling, the Court said from the bench, “I am ruling based on specific language. The record is clear that Assistant District Attorney General Ellen Berez said that “I want to nolle pross (not prosecute) this case”, but Berez did not say she “was going to nolle pross” the case. In making her ruling the Court relied on the “Golden case” as controlling authority.
THE OVERALL MOTION CHRONOLOGY
The Defense Motion, on which the Court ruled today, has been pending for months. It has dragged out all Spring and Summer. First, there was a “Keystone Judges” controversy over which Blount County Circuit Judge David Duggan or Tammy Harrington, would rule on the Motion. Then it turned out that the audio recordings from the last August Preliminary Hearing were “corrupted”. Then it was learned that the audio recordings were salvageable. Then it took forever for a transcript of last August’s hearing to be prepared from the recordings. Then it took seemingly forever for Judge Harrington to finally read the transcript and make her ruling today on the Motion.
Seasoned observers were expecting Judge Harrington to rule on the Defense Motion To Dismiss on July 23, 2014, when it was argued before her, and to set a trial date at that time. Television reporters were present in the courtroom for that hearing.
It is perplexing how a Circuit Judge can, with assembled media in the courtroom including television crews on multiple occasions, seem unaware of the public importance of the Wheelon case from a local, regional, national and international perspective.
The media are the public’s eyes and ears in Court proceedings, and when a matter is delayed to the point that the media disperses due to the ongoing tedium and delay in making ruling on important matters, it does not leave a good impression.
And there is still no trial date set in the Larry Joe Wheelon case.
It reminds of the legal maxim, “Justice delayed is justice denied”.
THE IMMEDIATE MOTION CHRONOLOGY
On July 23, 2014, Judge Tammy Harrington announced she would rule at 9:00 am on Friday, August 8, 2014 on the long pending Defense’s Motion To Dismiss. On last Friday, the media and onlookers sat in Judge Harrington’s Courtroom while the Court heard plea deals for criminal defendants from 9:00 a.m. until Noon; Shortly before noon, the Court said she would finish reading the August 2013 Preliminary Hearing transcripts during the lunch hour, and she offered to make her ruling on the Motion after lunch on Friday. The defense attorney and prosecutor agreed for the Court to make its ruling at 9:00 a.m. on August 11, 2014.
The media, including television and print reporters and onlookers, reassembled this morning expecting the Court to rule on the Motion. The Court, once again, spent the entire morning with prisoners in the courtroom presiding over the finalization of plea agreements. Several reporters, including the television crews, finally just gave up and left not to return.
Early this afternoon the Court finally made its ruling on the defense’s Motion To Dismiss.Then instead of setting a trial date, Blount County Circuit Judge Tammy Harrington decided to wait until District Attorney Mike Flynn appoints a new Assistant District Attorney to handle the Larry Joe Wheeon case before setting a trial date.
It has been known since May 7 2014, that Assistant District Attorney Kenlyn Foster handling the Wheelon case was the Republican nominee for a Juvenile Judgeship. On August 7, 2014, Foster defeated an Independent candidate. Foster will now resign her position to assume the Juvenile Judge’s position.
The question is begged why the District Attorney Mike Flynn has not already appointed another attorney from his staff to handle the case. It is reported that U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) was in Maryville last week and over the weekend. When Blount County General Sessions Judge Robert Headrick dismissed the Wheelon case a year ago on a technicality, the District Attorney Mike Flynn announced the case was over.
Then a public outrage ensued and petition drives were mounted for the case to be taken before a Blount County Grand Jury. This was finally done in December 2013, and the Grand Jury returned an 18 count indictment against Larry Joe Wheelon and three other defendants on aggravated animal cruelty charges.
It is becoming increasingly perplexing to the media and persons following this case the manner in which the Blount County Justice system is handling the case of State of Tennessee vs. Larry Joe Wheelon, et al.