BY KEN LITTLE
Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has been assigned the Ethan Self case, according to a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts.
The appointment of Blackwood, a retired criminal court judge from Western Tennessee, was approved late last week, AOC spokeswoman Michele Wojciechowski said.
Criminal Court Judge John F. Dugger Jr. unexpectedly recused himself from the case on April 19.
The trial of Self, who is charged with murder in connection with the March 2010 shooting death of his police officer father, Roger Self, was to have started on May 13.
It was not clear late last week if Blackwood would take over the case as it stands currently, or if a delay is necessary while he familiarizes himself with the facts.
Ethan Self remains free on $500,000 bond. No further court dates in his case had been scheduled as of Friday.
CONTINUED 3 TIMES
The Self trial had been continued three times before Dugger recused himself from the case.
"Although anything can happen, the most likely scenario is that Judge Blackwood will continue where it was left off. Either of the parties may decide to refile motions, and then he would hear them," Wojciechowski said in an email response to questions.
Dugger, a Third Judicial District Circuit Court judge who hears criminal cases in Greene County, cited a potential conflict of interest relating to his long-time administrative assistant, Virginia Dale Gass.
Gass told Dugger earlier this month that she was Roger Self's fifth- and seventh-grade teacher at McDonald Elementary School, and that she is in the process of inheriting a farm property with a boundary line shared by a Bible Chapel Road farm owned by the Self family.
"She grew up in the Bible Chapel community. The decedent grew up in the Bible Chapel community," Dugger said April 19.
ABOUT SELF CASE
Ethan Self, now 21, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with March 24, 2010, death of his father.
Roger Self, 46, a Greeneville Police Department dispatch sergeant, died of a gunshot wound to the head.
Ethan Self was charged with the shooting the day after his father's body was found in the bedroom of their Love Street home. His mother, Roger Self's wife, died in 2007.
Self's trial was continued twice in 2012.
In late November 2012, the prosecution filed a motion for a third continuance because a key prosecution witness would not have been available for a scheduled January 2013 trial.
The trial was then set to begin on May 13.
RETIRED CIRCUIT JUDGE
Blackwood, 66, retired in 2004 as a Circuit Court judge from Somerville in West Tennessee. He has lived in the Maryville area since retirement.
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. Tony Clark, First Judicial District attorney general, was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case.
Both Clark and lead defense lawyer John T. Milburn Rogers said after Dugger's recusal that they want the Self case to go to trial as soon as possible.
Dugger discussed the potential conflict of interest with defense lawyers and Clark before a scheduled motion hearing on April 19, when he announced he was recusing himself from the case.
MUST DECIDE ON MOTIONS
"Both sides believe there is an appearance of possible impropriety," Dugger said. "There is an appearance of impropriety, so I am going to recuse myself."
In 2012, Dugger granted a defense motion to have the jury selected in Hamblen County, due to local publicity the case has received.
Among motions he was to decide on April 19 was a defense request to have the trial moved from Greene County.
The venue change question, and others regarding evidence and testimony to be allowed at Ethan Self's trial, will now be ruled on by Blackwood.
As a senior judge, Blackwood has ties to other recent high-profile cases in Eastern Tennessee.
In October 2012, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Blackwood must recuse himself from presiding over retrials for three defendants convicted in the 2007 torture-slayings of a young Knox County couple.
In explaining the decision, the three-member panel said it had to consider even the possible appearance that Blackwood had become biased in handling the case, which he took over in 2011. Knox County prosecutors earlier argued that Blackwood was no longer impartial.
The panel cited instances when Blackwood displayed behavior that they said might raise questions about his impartiality.
Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas had been convicted of various crimes in connection with the carjacking and killings of University of Tennessee student Channon Christian and her boyfriend, Chris Newsom.
Blackwood threw out the convictions in December 2011 after information that the presiding judge in the case, Richard Baumgartner, was addicted to prescription painkillers and had sex with a woman who provided pills at the time the 2009 and 2010 criminal trials of the three men took place.
Baumgartner pleaded guilty in March 2011 to official misconduct and resigned. He was sentenced April 10 in Greeneville by U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer to six months in prison on federal charges connected to lying about obtaining painkillers and sex from defendants under his supervision.
Blackwood was also assigned other cases originally handled by Baumgartner.