Judge Denies Defense Motion
For Plea Deal Prosecutors
Withdrew During His Trial
BY KEN LITTLE
ROGERSVILLE -- Ethan Self could have entered a guilty plea to second-degree murder about one week into his trial.
His lawyers argued Monday at a motion hearing that Self should be able to accept the plea now.
Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood ruled against the motion, however, letting Self's first-degree murder conviction stand.
The plea offer, which would have meant a 15-year prison sentence for Self, was withdrawn by prosecutors the day before a Hawkins County jury convicted him of first-degree murder on Aug. 22.
Self was on trial in connection with the March 2010 shooting death of his father, Greeneville police Sgt. Roger Self.
He received a life sentence from Blackwood at the conclusion of the trial and must serve at least 51 years in prison before he becomes eligible for parole.
Blackwood will hear other motions in May for a new trial, a reduced sentence and an acquittal for Self.
REQUEST TO COURT
Defense lawyers John T. Milburn Rogers, Herbert Moncier and Jenny Coques Rogers filed the motion in September asking the court to "enforce" the plea agreement.
Rogers and Moncier argued Monday that Roger Self's family became upset after defense testimony during the trial. The defense motion claimed that Roger Self's family persuaded lead prosecutor Tony Clark to withdraw the offer two days after it was made.
Moncier further argued that the court is constitutionally bound to allow Ethan Self to present a "complete defense" and take the second-degree murder plea.
Clark, the First Judicial District attorney general who was named special prosecutor after Third District Attorney General Berkeley Bell recused himself, countered that he alone made the decision to withdraw the plea offer after gauging the jury's reaction to defense strategies during the trial.
Blackwood agreed with Clark. He said the court has to determine "whether or not the family's feelings in this case were a dominant factor in the prosecutor's withdrawing his plea.
"Did Mr. Clark unconstitutionally withdraw his plea agreement?" Blackwood asked, before answering his own question.
"Was there a plea agreement that was earlier accepted? In this case, there never was," Blackwood said. "That is not a constitutional deprivation of a defendant's rights.
"There was an offer, but that offer was withdrawn," Blackwood said.
OTHER PLEAS DENIED
Rogers and Moncier both testified that Clark would not consider a plea to voluntary manslaughter or less than a 15-year sentence on a second-degree murder plea by Ethan Self.
Ethan Self's mother, Kathryn Ann Self, a supervisor at Laughlin Memorial Hospital, died unexpectedly in December 2007.
Rogers and Moncier said that defense testimony by nurses at the hospital where Ann Self worked regarding Roger Self's conduct prompted the family to ask Clark to withdraw the plea.
"It was puzzling to me what changed between Monday afternoon and Wednesday," Moncier said. "Nothing changed, except that we offered a constitutional defense of our client."
OFFER NOT ACCEPTED
Clark asked Moncier if he or Rogers accepted the plea offer when it was made.
"No," Moncier replied.
Rogers testified it "was clearly unconstitutional for him to withdraw that plea based on the desire of the family."
Clark pressed Rogers on his recollection of what was said, adding that the defense motion called his "credibility" and "integrity" into question.
Roger Self's mother, Effie Self, and his sister, Becki Self, took the stand and were questioned by Clark.
Effie Self said she left the courtroom during defense trial testimony from nurses.
"It was untruthful, and I couldn't take it any longer, and I just had to leave. There is times a mother just can't take everything that was said," Effie Self said.
Effie and Becki Self were both subpoenaed by the defense.
"They don't know the feeling that I have. I lost two instead of one," Effie Self said, referring to Roger and Ethan Self.
Effie Self said other family members didn't tell her what happened when she was outside the courtroom.
"I didn't want to know," she said.
Becki Self testified she wasn't in the courtroom during the nurses' testimony. She said the family had agreed to the second-degree murder plea, and it was Clark's choice to take the offer from the table.
"It was your decision to accept or withdraw it. That was our understanding," Becki Self said.
Clark testified that he told family members two days after making the plea offer that he had withdrawn it after watching the jury react to defense arguments that Ethan Self had acted in self-defense, that the shooting was accidental, and that Ethan Self was a victim of child abuse.
"It was my feeling the jury was tired of hearing (multiple) defenses," Clark said.
Clark said he felt earlier in the trial "there would be quite a bit of sympathy" for Ethan Self and that there was a possibility there could be a hung jury.
"I explained the plea offer (and the family) could live with that without having to go through another trial," he said.
Clark said he and co-prosecutor Dennis Brooks studied the reaction of jurors to defense testimony.
"I think the victim in this case was put on trial. I think that turned the jury off, in my opinion," he said.
Clark said he told the Roger Self family it was his call "to withdraw the plan and for various reasons I did that."
Lockwood asked Moncier if he could cite "any case where a client has a constitutional right to a plea agreement."
Moncier said he could not.
In his closing argument to the judge, Brooks said the defense simply didn't like the jury's verdict.
"There had been an offer. It sat out there for two days, and it was never accepted," he said.
Clark anticipates that the defense will appeal Blackwood's ruling to a higher court.
"If we made an offer, we have unbridled discretion to withdraw it at any time," Clark said.
Ethan Self remains held in Hawkins County jail. He sat with defense lawyers during the hearing and showed no reaction to the proceedings.
A group of supporters that included his maternal grandmother, Norma George, sat behind the defense table, as they did during the trial. Self nodded at them as he left the courtroom.
One member of the Greeneville Police Department, Detective Capt. Beth Dyke, sat in the courtroom behind Clark and Brooks with Roger Self's family members.
The trial was held in Rogersville with a jury drawn from Hawkins County residents.
In rulings months before the trial began, judges granted separate motions by Rogers to move the trial out of Greene County, and then to pick a jury from another county.
PROSECUTION, DEFENSE POSITIONS
Prosecutors said during the trial that Self acted with premeditation in the March 24, 2010, killing of Roger Self as he slept in his bed in the family's Love Street house.
Roger Self, 46, was shot in the back of the head with his own service weapon, a Glock semi-automatic pistol.
The defense characterized Ethan Self as a victim of physical and emotional abuse by his father, and presented witnesses who supported the contention that Self did not intend to harm his father.
In a statement to investigators, and interviews with professionals performing mental evaluations, Self said the gun accidentally discharged after he was startled by a noise made by his sleeping father.