BY KEN LITTLE
The state will seek prison terms of life without the possibility of parole for four defendants charged with first-degree murder in connection with a double homicide in March 2012, District Attorney General C. Berkeley Bell said Friday.
The bodies of Courtney A. Thompson and Terrence L. Stewart were found early March 11, 2012, on a dirt road under the Newport Highway bridge on U.S. 321.
Charged with multiple counts each of first-degree murder are Christopher Allen Jones, 32, of 649 7th St., Newport; James Douglas Black, 51, of 1309 Main St., White Pine; and Tabitha N. Whitlock, 33, of 3426 Dulaney Road, Mosheim. Teresa Jane Miller, 46, of Clifton Heights Road, Newport, was also later charged with first-degree murder.
Bell announced the state's intentions during a pretrial hearing before Greene County Criminal Court Judge John F. Dugger Jr.
DEFENDANTS IN COURT
All four defendants were present Friday in court.
Also during the pretrial hearing, Dugger confirmed with prosecutors and defense lawyer Douglas L. Payne that a Jan. 13 trial date set several months ago for Christopher Jones is still feasible.
Bell told Dugger that forensic evidence from the case should be received from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation lab. That evidence will be shared with defense lawyers in a timely manner, Bell said.
Black, Miller and Whitlock will go on trial individually later in 2014. All four defendants remain held on $500,000 bond in the Greene County Detention Center.
BOND REDUCTION DENIED
Frank Santore Jr., lawyer for Miller, renewed a motion Friday to have his client's bond reduced, which was denied by Dugger.
"I'm going to leave the bond where it is," Dugger said. "The state filed today (its intent to seek) life without parole."
Prosecutors said after Miller's arrest in March that she was not present when the crimes were committed, but still bears "criminal responsibility."
Miller's indictments say she acted "as a party principal" in the perpetration of the robbery of Thompson and Stewart and acts of theft from them.
All four defendants have been indicted on multiple counts of first-degree murder, reflecting different theories of the crime to be presented by prosecutors.
Indictments state that Black, Jones and Whitlock are criminally responsible "as a party principal," by "premeditatively and intentionally" killing Thompson and Stewart "by shooting [them] multiple times in the head with a handgun."
Murder counts state that Thompson and Stewart were killed in the perpetration of an attempt to commit a robbery.
Another theory of first-degree murder against Black, Jones and Whitlock states that Thompson and Stewart were killed in an "attempt to perpetrate a theft."
SHOT IN CAR
The road under the bridge where the bodies were found is along the Nolichucky River, near the Cocke County line.
Statements given to investigators by Black, Jones and Whitlock say the victims were shot as they rode in Thompson's car on the Newport Highway just inside the Greene County line.
Drugs and money are the apparent motivating factors for the robbery and shootings of Thompson and Stewart, investigators said.
The victims were former Newport residents who moved back to Cocke County just before their deaths.
They knew the defendants, according to statements given to investigators.
Dugger set a Dec. 6 motion hearing date Friday for the Jones trial.