Davidson's case not dismissed despite mishandled letter

Davidson's case not dismissed despite mishandled letter

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LeMaricus Davidson LeMaricus Davidson

By HANA KIM
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- LeMaricus Davidson's trial will remain on the docket as scheduled, despite a mishandling of several letters, the judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Richard Baumgartner also denied a defense motion asking to have prosecutors removed from the case over the letter snafu.

The letter had Davidson's reaction to witness testimony in the trial of Eric Boyd, who was convicted as an accessory in this case in October 2008. Boyd was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

The judge said the attorney-client breach is embarrassing for the Knox County sheriff's deputies who initially made the mistake, but ruled it wasn't intentional.

The judge also said he believes the deputies' explanation that they didn't realize the letters from Davidson were legal documents. The deputies in part blamed the oversight on the massive amounts of mail streaming in in this case.

Deputies: letter being forwarded was mistake

In Thursday's hearing, sheriff's deputies Frank Nauss and Hugh Williams were called to the stand.  The deputies also said they intercepted mail from Vanessa Coleman, another defendant in the Christian-Newsom murders.

The deputy said he had no interest in what the letters said. He just copied them.

Four letters in Davidson's case were intercepted by the sheriff's office.  Officers are not allowed to open legal documents.

The deputy said they didn't realize the documents were legal at the time despite the fact that it had "attorney at law" on the envelope.

The second deputy, Hugh Williams, testified that the intercepted letter copies were forwarded to the prosecution.

They also said they weren't told by the sheriff's office to intercept these letters. It was simply a mistake. "We were flabbergasted we made a mistake," Williams told the court.

State motion over letter

The state said Wednesday in a motion that tossing the case against Davidson because a letter from him was copied and forwarded to prosecutors would be inappropriate.

Prosecutor Leland Price filed that motion late Tuesday afternoon.

Price admitted in the state's motion about Davidson's letter that the sheriff's office copied a letter Davidson wrote to his attorneys, David Eldridge and Doug Trant, on April 23, 2008 and sent it to the district attorney general's office.

Price said the DA's office scanned the letter into a digital format along with several other letters to and from the other defendants in the case.

The scanned letters were provided to Davidson's attorney on June 28, 2008. No employees of the DA's office reviewed the letters at the time they were scanned, according to the state.

This year, a DA's office staff member who reviewed the letter marked a page for Price and Fitzgerald to review, the state wrote.

Price said in the state's filing that he and Fitzgerald didn't know the page was from a letter that should have been protected under attorney-client privilege.

Price wrote that "No additional evidence was directly or indirectly obtained as a result of the state's review. The state's trial strategy was not altered in any way."

Price said he only learned the truth about the letter in a meeting with Davidson's attorneys on October 7. He also said the state told Davidson's attorneys it won't seek to introduce any of his letters at trial.

Price argued that even if the court believes Davidson's rights were violated, dismissing the case would be "highly inappropriate."

Private hearing over sealed items

On Thursday, the court held a private hearing on another matter, unidentified DNA found on the underwear of murder victim Channon Christian. 

Last week, an advanced DNA test detected DNA of two unknown males on Channon's underwear. The test confirmed that the DNA did not belong to any of the defendants, Eric Boyd or Chris Newsom.

The hearing was privately held under what's known as Rule 412 in order to protect a rape victim. It's likely Channon Christian's sexual history was discussed.

After the private hearing, the prosecution filed a motion to keep derogatory statements from entering the trial. A judge will decide on the DNA issue as well as several other matters during Friday's hearing.  

Trial starts Monday

Opening arguments in Davidson's trial are set for Monday and his attorneys disclosed their discovery about the letter by filing a motion.


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