Trial Date Will Be Aug. 12, Judge Blackwood Decides
BY KEN LITTLE
KNOXVILLE -- The murder trial of Ethan A. Self will begin Aug. 12 in Rogersville.
The jury in Self's trial will also be drawn from Hawkins County residents, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood said Friday at a pretrial hearing held in the Tennessee Supreme Court chambers in Knoxville.
Self, 21, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the March 2010 shooting death of his father, Greeneville police Sgt. Roger Self.
Blackwood, appointed in April as presiding judge by the state Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), also approved a motion by defense lawyers to appoint a new court-approved psychiatrist, who will interview Self and testify as an expert witness for the prosecution.
Circuit Court Judge John F. Dugger Jr., who recently recused himself from the case, approved a motion last year by lead defense lawyer John T. Milburn Rogers to select a jury in Hamblen County because of extensive publicity the case has received in Greene County.
Rogers, who is assisted by Knoxville trial lawyer Herbert S. Moncier and Jenny Coques Rogers, has expressed concern that holding the trial in Greene County would bring jurors in contact with local law enforcement officers who are following the case closely.
Hamblen County was also considered as a possible location for the trial.
The availability of a courtroom at the Hawkins County Justice Center prompted the decision to hold the proceeding there.
The defense will not ask for a jury sequestration.
Defense lawyers and special prosecutor Tony Clark, district attorney general of the First Judicial District, agreed to the change of venue.
The trial could last up to three weeks, Blackwood said.
Self remains free on $500,000 bond.
Roger Self, 46, a Greeneville Police Department dispatch sergeant, died of a gunshot wound to the head on March 24, 2010.
Ethan Self, then 18, was charged in connection with the shooting the day after his father's body was found in the bedroom of their Love Street home.
In court Friday, Rogers asked Blackwood to consider "the proposition the defendant cannot receive a fair and impartial trial with a large number of deputy sheriffs and members of the Greeneville Police Department parading in and out of the courtroom while (jury members) are sitting in the courtroom."
Rogers said the presence of so many police officers could influence a jury if the trial was held in Greene County Criminal Court.
At an earlier hearing, Clark said that law enforcement officers will likely turn out in support of Roger Self no matter where the trial is held.
Dugger was considering the question before unexpectedly recusing himself at an April 12 motion hearing.
He did so due to a possible perception of conflict of interest because his assistant, Virginia Dale Gass, was one of Roger Self's teachers years ago at McDonald Elementary School, and was in the process of inheriting property adjacent to land owned by the Self family.
Rogers also expressed concern with allowing prosecution testimony by Nashville psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Montgomery, who has studied defense psychiatrist interviews with Self, along with police reports in the court file.
"The state gave Dr. Montgomery the report that they wanted him to have," Rogers said. "They gave him certain information that warped his opinion, and he took that information and warped it further."
Montgomery has already formed an opinion about Self's frame of mind the day of the shooting, Rogers said.
"How could he possibly have any objective view of Ethan Self?" Rogers said.
He suggested the prosecution "start with a clean slate" and bring in another psychiatrist to testify at trial.
Blackwood agreed, telling prosecutors another psychiatrist could be appointed to interview Self.
"I'm going to order a mental examination by another doctor," Blackwood said.
Montgomery's testimony will be excluded from trial. The state does have a right to interview Self, Blackwood said.
JAIL PHONE CALLS
There was discussion at Friday's hearing about the admissibility at trial of telephone calls Self made to family members and others when he was held in the Greene County Detention Center.
During the hearing, Rogers and Moncier both referred to the shooting of Roger Self as an "accident." Rogers expressed concern that some of the recorded phone calls might convey to a jury a lack of remorse by Ethan Self regarding his father's death.
The state may introduce transcripts and records of jail phone calls made by Self at trial "that cast him in a negative light," Rogers said.
Self was held in "isolation" in the Greene County jail, and the only contact he had with others was through recorded telephone calls. The state plans to use recordings and transcripts of about 15 tapes of phone conversations Self had while in jail.
Moncier objected to the state's inclusion of random "chit-chat" by Self with others on various topics, including speculation on what would happen at his trial.
"This whole tape recording cannot be played to the jury," Moncier said.
Moncier asked Blackwood to allow omission of some sections of the tape and transcripts of the conversations that could suggest a lack of remorse.
Dennis Brooks, an assistant district attorney general from the First Judicial District who is assisting Clark, told Blackwood a pattern emerges by listening to all the phone calls.
"It's not just what he's saying. It's what he's not saying," Brooks said. "It's harder to make the point to the jury when they haven't heard all the calls."
But Brooks agreed that some of the conversations "aren't relevant."
Blackwood said he will review the transcript of the jail phone calls and rule on what will be admissible at trial.
SELF IS COMPOSED
Self, neatly dressed in a dark suit and tie, showed no emotion during the hearing. His grandmother, aunt and other supporters were in the courtroom.
His trial has been continued three times since his arrest. Though new to the Self case, Blackwood emphasized the need to go to trial on schedule.
"I desperately need to make a decision today on your motion to change venue," Blackwood told Rogers during Friday's hearing.
Blackwood is one of three senior judges appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court to preside over cases where a special judge is needed.
Berkeley Bell, Third Judicial District attorney general, recused himself from the Self case in 2011.
Clark was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case soon afterward.