Why do some murder cases take so long for trial in Knox County?

Why do some murder cases take so long for trial in Knox County?

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"Motions will be filed. they'll do arguments and you leave that day with nothing accomplished other than them re-setting it out further away," Pat Loveday says. "Motions will be filed. they'll do arguments and you leave that day with nothing accomplished other than them re-setting it out further away," Pat Loveday says.
"It's hard to blame a defense attorney for not rushing to get their client exposed to a first degree murder conviction," says special prosecutor John Gill. "It's hard to blame a defense attorney for not rushing to get their client exposed to a first degree murder conviction," says special prosecutor John Gill.
"If there is a dispute between the DA's office and the defense about discovery issues, there's additional hearings, motions and squabbling that delay a trial," says defense attorney Bruce Poston. "If there is a dispute between the DA's office and the defense about discovery issues, there's additional hearings, motions and squabbling that delay a trial," says defense attorney Bruce Poston.
"So when I leave the courthouse, I leave the courthouse, but I never leave the courthouse unless my day's work is done," Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz says. "So when I leave the courthouse, I leave the courthouse, but I never leave the courthouse unless my day's work is done," Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz says.

By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Some accused killers have been sitting behind bars in Knox County for years while attorneys prepare their cases for trial. Meanwhile, the victims' families are waiting for justice.

The oldest case waiting to go to trial dates back to 2002. So why is justice being delayed up to six years when it comes to murder?

When you think of high profile murder cases in Knox County, those making headlines recently probably come to mind.

Two examples are the conviction of the first suspect connected to the carjacking and double murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom in 2007 and the suicide of a suspect charged in the murder of Johnia Berry.

But what about the long forgotten cases, those taking years to make it through the justice system?

Pat Loveday's son, Scott, 20, was robbed and murdered in 1997 while waiting to use a pay phone. 

Loveday says she felt victimized again by the justice system. It took six years for the four young men accused of her son's murder to be brought to justice.

"I think the most frustrating part is, you go in with the anticipation of it starting and then something will happen," Loveday explains. "Motions will be filed. they'll do arguments and you leave that day with nothing accomplished other than them re-setting it out further away."

Special prosecutor John Gill says it's something he sees far too often, grieving families beaten down emotionally by the ups and downs of the court system.

"The homicides happened in 2002, 2003 and 2004," Gill says as he looks over a list of pending murder cases. 

Gill says it's taking too long to get them to trial for a list of reasons, including defense attorneys filing too many motions causing delay after delay.

"It's hard to blame a defense attorney for not rushing to get their client exposed to a first degree murder conviction," Gill says.

Defense attorney Bruce Poston says sometimes the Knox County District Attorney General's office makes it tough to move right along without filing motions.

"If there is a dispute between the DA's office and the defense about discovery issues, there's additional hearings, motions and squabbling that delay a trial," Poston says. 

While all the players that make the courtroom run may not agree on the reasons Knox County murder cases are being slowed down, no one can deny is that the long term illness of one criminal court judge really bogged down the system.

Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz says, "It created a boggle in the system that reflected on all of us, but the gentleman was ill." She's talking about Judge Ray Lee Jenkins, who died in August 2007.

Bruce Poston agrees, saying the back log in Judge Jenkins' court spilled over into the others. "The ultimate effect of what happened in division two was to back up the system, where you have cases that might be sometimes as old as four-years-old."

But John Gill, with the DA's office argues, "I don't see that has any effect at all. It would delay cases in his court because he was ill, but it shouldn't effect the other courts."

Judge Leibowitz disagrees, "Oh, I love John Gill, but I disagree with him because he is never in the court room. That (District 2's back log) has created a terrible problem."

Then there are judges working half days and only trying cases two or three days a week.

In response, Judge Leibowitz says, "Oh, I've heard that for years and you know what? I'm not going to stay all day today. I often don't stay all day."

Judge Leibowitz says when she doesn't have cases to hear, she takes her work home where the environment is more conducive for going over files and she's on call if police need her to sign warrants.

"It's important that you do the job, but do it with some sanity," Judge Leibowitz adds. "So when I leave the courthouse, I leave the courthouse, but I never leave the courthouse unless my day's work is done."

Bruce Poston adds, "When they (judges) leave early, it's our fault. When I say that, the DAs and the defense bar, because we haven't gotten cases ready for trial."

The good news is, judges are now getting caught up. With a new Division 2 criminal court judge on the bench, the backlog is thinning.

Death penalty cases and murders involving a defendant with a mental illness take much longer to go to trial.

Special prosecutor John Gill tells 6 News even bigger cities like Memphis, which has more murders, prosecute cases quicker.

However, defense attorneys and judges both say that's an unfair comparison.

Memphis has 147 murders a year compared to Knoxville's 20. Officials in Memphis say it takes an average of two years to begin a murder trial.

Knoxville averages between two-and-a-half to three years for a case to go to trial.

However, Memphis has 10 criminal court judges, compared to three in Knoxville, and Memphis has more attorneys as well.

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