Burns to address park erosion, still pondering sale

The Burns Board of Commissioners has started the process of addressing erosion problems at the town’s new park and is considering whether it will apply for permission to sell the property to a private company. At a special meeting Wednesday, the board voted to hire James+Associates to prepare a plan for addressing the erosion issues cited in a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Notice of Violation. Attorney Tim Potter said Darrell James inspected the park property and submitted a two-phase proposal for addressing what TDEC has called “deeply eroded gullies” and other signs of long-term erosion problems on the rear of the park property on Highway 96. James proposed phase I will be a due diligence study of the problem to identify the actions needed to correct the issues, which have prompted TDEC to withhold the final $63,000 reimbursement in the town’s grant for the park. Potter said phase I would have a maximum cost of $3,500. The second phase would be to develop a plan for correcting the issues with an estimate to be provided following the completion of phase I. Regardless of what the board ultimately decides to do with the park, it must address the erosion problems before the state will release the rest of the grant funds. The board voted 3-0 with outgoing Commissioner Chris Holland absent to approve the contract with James+Associates. Gerald Parish, the director of TDEC’s Recreation Education Services, said in order for Burns to accept a private company’s offer to buy the park for $1.2 million, it must acquire new property for public recreational use that is of equal or greater value to the current park. Parish said the town must submit a $10,000 fee with a conversion application showing how it will replace the park property before it can be sold. He said the replacement property cannot be existing land owned by the town but must be new property. While the town does not have to obtain the property to get approval, Parish said it must demonstrate an agreement to purchase the land before the application will be considered. He said there is a cap of one year for the state’s five-member board to consider the conversion application. Parish explained the city and state will get appraisals of the value of the land and facilities at the park next to Stuart-Burns Elementary School and the new property and proposed improvements must equal that value. Potter said the town has to identify replacement property and develop a plan for acquiring and developing it, submit the application and non-refundable fee and make sure the prospective buyers are willing to wait as much as a year for the process to be completed. Parish said the state will not accept repayment of the $562,000 in grant funds it already has invested in the new park. He said the first grant for $200,000 with a match by Burns was used to acquire the property and then a $425,000 grant was issued to develop the facility, with $63,000 of that still being held. Parish said the private company’s offer to allow the park to be used by the public is not enough because according to the grant requirements the park must be owned by the town of Burns. “We ask that the park be open for public recreation,” Parish said. “We want a facility that will entice people to move to Burns, Tenn.” Commissioner Jerry Perella said it “seems almost impossible to find a comparable piece of property” that could replace the park. Potter has said in addition to the $10,000 application fee, there will be considerable legal expense in preparing the extensive conversion application in a process that could take several months. Potter suggested the board consider the information on the conversion process and possibly take a vote on whether to proceed at its Dec. 5 meeting.

Neal’s trial for killing husband bumped to May 15

A Dickson County woman’s trial on charges she killed her husband and set fire to their home has been reset in May to allow a man currently in jail to be tried in February for killing his infant son. At a hearing in Dickson County Circuit Court Tuesday, Judge Larry Wallace rescheduled the trial of 36-year-old Mendy Powell Neal of Firetower Road for May 15. Neal had been scheduled to stand trial on murder, arson and prescription fraud charges Feb. 6, but earlier this month Wallace bumped her trial to reschedule the trial of 33-year-old Robert E. Huse on murder and aggravated child abuse charges for the 2012 death of his two-month-old son. Huse had been scheduled to stand trial Oct. 31, but Wallace delayed the trial following the death of retired Judge Robert Burch. Because Huse remains in jail unable to post his $500,000 bond, Wallace said his trial takes priority over Neal’s because she is out on $250,000 bond. At Tuesday’s brief hearing, District Attorney Ray Crouch Jr. said he expects Neal’s trial to take at least three days and defense attorney Olin Baker said he anticipates calling “a bunch” of defense witnesses. Neal is charged with first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated arson for the July 11, 2012, death of her husband, 50-year-old Matthew B. Neal, in the early morning fire that destroyed their Loggins Road home in Charlotte. She also faces nine counts of obtaining prescription drugs by fraud for allegedly picking up painkillers, muscle relaxers and anti-anxiety medication that were called in by 37-year-old January Paige Shelton of Charlotte without authorization by a doctor. Shelton, Neal and three other defendants, including Shelton’s mother, were indicted in August 2013 for the prescription fraud scheme in which Shelton allegedly called in unauthorized prescriptions while working as an assistant at a Dickson medical practice. The trials of Neal and Shelton originally were delayed from August 2014 after Crouch announced Neal was the subject of a homicide investigation for her husband’s death. The investigation into the fire began after Neal’s arrest on prescription fraud charges. The Dickson County Grand Jury indicted her on the murder and arson charges in December 2014. Crouch has said Shelton’s trial on 52 counts of prescription fraud will “track” Neal’s trial, meaning it will not be held until after Neal’s, indicating a possible connection between the prescription scheme and the murder. Wallace also scheduled Shelton’s trial for May 15. Neal told investigators she woke around 2 am to smoke in the second-floor bedroom of the family’s log home. She said she was unable to wake her husband who was asleep in a first-floor room before she was forced to flee from the flames. The couple’s two young children were staying at friends’ homes that night. The indictments allege Neal picked up prescriptions called in by Shelton for Xanax on May 3, May 31, June 29 and another the day her husband died in the fire. She also is charged with picking up prescriptions for Diazepam on July 12, Hydrocodone on Sept. 28 and Dec. 31 and Xanax on Sept. 29 and Nov. 1, 2012. Shelton was fired in January 2013 after discrepancies in prescription records were discovered and the Dickson Police Department launched an investigation. Baker has said Neal was distraught and unaware that Shelton was calling in the prescriptions without authorization by a doctor.

Rapist’s arraignment delayed over Clarksville arrest

Herman Lee Brown
Herman Lee Brown

The arraignment for a convicted rapist on charges he violated the sex offender registry by working as a referee at Dickson County games was postponed because he currently is in jail on similar charges in Montgomery County. 53-year-old Herman Lee Brown of Woodlawn was indicted last month on eight counts of violating the sex offender registry for working as a referee at middle and high school basketball and football games in Dickson County Aug. 31-Jan. 20. Brown was arrested in Robertson County in April after authorities learned he was on the sex offender registry and had been working as an umpire at softball games there. Brown also faces charges for working games in Houston County. An affidavit says Robertson County investigators notified the Dickson County Sheriff’s Office that Brown was believed to have worked games in Dickson County. Brown was free on bond on the Robertson County charges when he was indicted and arrested in Dickson County. He was released on $8,000 bond. At his scheduled arraignment in Dickson County Circuit Court Tuesday, the attorney for Brown asked for a continuance because his client is currently in jail in Montgomery County and unable to make bond. Judge Larry Wallace rescheduled Brown’s arraignment for Nov. 30 and said a transport order will be issued if Brown is still in jail. Brown was arrested Nov. 4 in Clarksville on charges he violated the registry by working as a referee in Montgomery County and falsifying his sex offender registry form. Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Jeffrey Morlock said evidence on the specific number of games Brown allegedly worked there will be presented to a grand jury next month. According to the Montgomery County warrant, Brown did not disclose his work as a referee at high school and middle school games when he completed a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Sex Offender Registration and Tracking form in March. The TSSAA confirmed Brown registered as a referee and umpire for basketball, football and softball in June 2015 and did not disclose he has a felony conviction. The TSSAA began requiring background checks for new referees in November 2015 but did not retroactively check existing referees. The TSSAA does not employ referees who work as independent contractors and are assigned to games by various regional organizations. According to warrants, Brown was convicted of rape and indecent acts with a child in 2000 while on active military duty overseas. As a sex offender, he is prohibited from coming within 1,000 feet of a school or from employment that would put him in contact with children.

Judges struggle to schedule 13 pending murder trials

The number of pending homicide and murder trials in Dickson County has grown to 13 with 15 defendants. Various delays are making it difficult for the county’s three circuit judges to find dates to accommodate the growing list and right now 12 trials are scheduled in Charlotte between Monday and May 30, 2017, a period of 27 weeks. One trial still is to be scheduled. The October grand jury session added an indictment for second-degree murder and a defendant in a 2011 murder has been declared competent to stand trial. 57-year-old Jurgen Horst Whitfield is scheduled for a May 30 trial for the 2011 beating death of his elderly mother after almost five years of mental evaluations. 30-year-old Brandon Odom was indicted for second-degree murder for allegedly selling drugs to a Charlotte man who died from an overdose. A series of events has forced delays in several trials and the resulting shuffling of dates has left judges scrambling to meet the demand. The death of retired Judge Robert Burch resulted in the postponement of one murder trial, which was then rescheduled to the date of another murder trial, causing it to be delayed. A trial that was scheduled to begin Wednesday was postponed, but only for five days into the spot where a vehicular homicide trial had been scheduled but was continued. The trial of three men for a triple shooting in Charlotte that left two men dead was changed to start a week earlier than originally scheduled. But the aforementioned vehicular homicide trial is scheduled for the same day in case the Charlotte shooting trial is postponed. The only trial still waiting to be scheduled is in a double shooting and fire at a Dickson duplex, with the possibility of the death penalty causing the latest delay.

The homicide and murder cases pending in Dickson County Circuit Court at this time include:

  • Steve Marty Jarman
    Steve Marty Jarman

    52-year-old Steve Marty Jarman of Charlotte is charged with first-degree murder for the April 18, 2015, death of his girlfriend. 49-year-old Shelley Denise Heath died after suffering a gunshot wound that was first reported to be self-inflicted in Jarman’s Maple Valley Road home. Jarman’s trial was scheduled to start Wednesday, but has been postponed to Monday because of questions over the admissibility of some testimony. Jarman remains in the Dickson County Jail on $250,000 bond;

  • 37-year-old Michelle Marie Widner of White Bluff is charged with vehicular homicide by intoxication and vehicular homicide by recklessness for the April 3, 2015, wreck on Highway 70 that killed 46-year-old Ron Askins of White Bluff. Prosecutors say Widner had prescription medications in her system at a level that would have impaired her when she pulled off Buddy Road and struck Askins on his motorcycle. Widner is being held in the Dickson County Jail on $50,000 bond with a trial scheduled for Dec. 1;
  • Thomas Lee Wortham
    Thomas Lee Wortham

    47-year-old Thomas Lee “Tommy” Wortham of Bon Aqua is charged with first-degree murder and two counts of felony murder for the Aug. 20, 1998, shooting of 32-year-old Eric Baxter. Wortham and his half-brother, 58-year-old Wallace Wade “Wally” Brasel of Lyles, were scheduled to stand trial in August but Judge David Wolfe granted a motion to sever the trials. District Attorney Ray Crouch has chosen to try Wortham first. Wortham remains in the Dickson County Jail on $350,000 bond and his trial is scheduled for Dec. 5;

  • Kenneth Ray Niles
    Kenneth Ray Niles

    38-year-old Kenneth Ray Niles of Dickson is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder, aggravated arson, especially aggravated burglary, especially aggravated robbery and theft for the April 2015 deaths of 27-year-old John Christopher Goldtrap and 23-year-old Lisa Wade Mackenzie McDonald. Prosecutors say Niles shot both victims in the head the night of April 13 and returned to the McFarland Lane duplex early the next morning to set it on fire in an attempt to conceal the crime. Because the district attorney has filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty, Niles was appointed his fourth different attorney. He was scheduled to stand trial Dec. 5 but Judge Suzanne Lockert-Mash has scheduled a hearing with Niles’ new attorneys Dec. 13, at which time a trial date could be set. Niles is being held without bond in the Montgomery County Jail;

  • Robert Edward Huse
    Robert Edward Huse

    33-year-old Robert E. Huse of Dickson is charged with felony murder and aggravated child abuse for the Sept. 24, 2012, death of his two-month-old son. The medical examiner says Grayson Michael Sanders died from blunt force trauma to the head. His trial scheduled for Oct. 31 was postponed due to the death of Burch and has been reset for Feb. 6. Huse is being held in the Cheatham County Jail on $500,000 bond;

  • Keianthony Mignon Garrett
    Keianthony Mignon Garrett

    21-year-old Keianthony Mignon Garrett was indicted for felony murder in the death of 51-year-old Cynthia Darlene Green of Dickson. The indictment charges Garrett killed Green during the commission of aggravated burglary. Her body was discovered March 8 in her duplex behind the Dickson County Fairgrounds. An investigator says Garrett’s DNA was found on pieces of a broken iron believed to have been used to beat her to death. Garrett remains in the Dickson County Jail on $1 million bond and is scheduled to stand trial Feb. 13;

  • Wallace Wade Brasel
    Wallace Wade Brasel

    58-year-old Wallace Wade “Wally” Brasel of Lyles faces first-degree and felony murder charges for the 1998 shooting of Eric Baxter. Brasel and his half-brother, Tommy Wortham, were scheduled to stand trial together in August but it was delayed when attorneys sought to have separate trials. At a hearing, a defense attorney said the prosecution will present two witnesses who claim while incarcerated in the Hickman County Jail on an unrelated charge Brasel admitted to shooting Baxter. Brasel remains in the Cheatham County Jail on $350,000 bond with his trial set for Feb. 21;

  • Brandon Lee Odom
    Brandon Lee Odom

    30-year-old Brandon Lee Odom was indicted in October for second-degree murder for the July 3 drug overdose death of 33-year-old Kenneth James Porter of Charlotte. The indictment charges Odom sold heroin and methamphetamine to Porter, which caused his death. He also faces several probation violation and failure to appear charges and remains in the Dickson County Jail on $91,000 bond. His trial is scheduled for March 22;

  • 25-year-old Alonzo M. Greer is charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder for April 11 shootings in the areas of Sunny Ridge and Batey Circle. Police responded to reports of shots fired from a vehicle and found shell casings in both areas, but nobody was hit. A June indictment charges Greer with attempting to kill Kellye Raley and Joshua Hunter in the shootings. Greer was scheduled to stand trial Wednesday but it was rescheduled to March 22 because a murder trial was scheduled to begin that day. Greer remains free on bond;
  • Kurtis Lamar Primm
    Kurtis Lamar Primm
    Isiah Jaypaul Primm
    Isiah Jaypaul Primm
    Jonathan Keith Hughes, Jr.
    Jonathan Keith Hughes, Jr.

    28-year-old Kurtis Lamar Primm, 24-year-old Isiah Jaypaul Primm and 28-year-old Jonathan Keith Hughes Jr. face two first-degree murder, one attempted first-degree murder and three conspiracy to commit first-degree murder charges for the April 12 triple shooting near the picnic grounds in Charlotte. They are charged in the deaths of Quintin Dewayne Tidwell and Marcedez Teroy Bell and the wounding of Montae Springer in what a witness says started as a fist fight over a $200 drug debt. Their joint trials were scheduled for April 24 but Judge Larry Wallace moved them up to start a week earlier on April 17. Hughes and Isiah Primm are being held in the Dickson County Jail and Kurtis Primm is in the Montgomery County Jail, all three on $1 million bonds;

  • Johnny Morgan Dye
    Johnny Morgan Dye

    36-year-old Johnny Morgan Dye of Clarkrange, Tn., is charged with vehicular homicide by intoxication and vehicular homicide by recklessness for the July 7, 2014, wreck on Highway 49 that killed 22-year-old medical student Jacob T. Akers of Charlotte. Prosecutors say Dye had pain killers in his system and witnesses say he was driving at over 80 miles an hour when he struck Akers’ vehicle head-on. Dye’s trial was scheduled for Monday but was postponed until April 17 because four prosecution witnesses are unavailable next week. April 17 is the same trial date for three defendants in a triple shooting in Charlotte. Judge Larry Wallace said if the shooting trial is postponed, then Dye will be tried that day. If the shooting trial is held, Dye will be tried as soon as it is over. After his bond was revoked last month, Dye is being held in the Dickson County Jail until his trial;

  • 36-year-old Mendy Powell Neal of Tennessee City is charged with first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated arson for the July 11, 2012, death of her husband, 50-year-old Matthew B. Neal. Prosecutors say Neal set the fire in the family’s Loggins Road home in Charlotte that killed her husband. Neal also is charged with nine counts of obtaining prescription medications by fraud as part of a scheme in which a friend who worked as a medical assistant called in prescriptions without a doctor’s authorization. 37-year-old January Paige Shelton faces 52 prescription fraud charges. Neal was scheduled to stand trial Feb. 6 but because she is out on $250,000 bond, that trial date was given to Robert Huse, who is in jail. On Tuesday Neal’s trial was reset for May 15 with Shelton’s trial to follow;
  • Jurgen Horst Whitfield
    Jurgen Horst Whitfield

    57-year-old Jurgen Horst Whitfield is charged with second-degree murder in the Dec. 25, 2011, death of his mother, 78-year-old Ingrid Maria Whitfield, in the Burns home they shared. Investigators say Whitfield admitted striking his mother with his hands and an autopsy showed she suffered blunt force trauma to her head. Whitfield has been undergoing mental evaluations since his arrest and was reported to be competent to stand trial Tuesday. His trial is scheduled for May 30 and he remains in the Dickson County Jail on $1 million bond.

Debbie Watts and Friends perform at Bibb tonight

Debbie Mathis Watts poses in a costume for a segment of patriotic music in her performance.
Debbie Mathis Watts poses in a costume for a segment of patriotic music in her performance.

Former Dickson County resident and educator Debbie Mathis Watts presents an evening of music, stories and art tonight at the Bibb-White Bluff Civic Center. “Debbie Mathis Watts and Friends” will be at 7 pm Friday and those attending are asked to bring a canned or non-perishable food donation for the Harry Murrell Chapter 28 of the Disabled American Veterans’ food drive as admission. A Burns native, Watts was an English teacher at Dickson County High School for six years and then taught 20 years in the Sumner County school system. She also has been a writer, producer and program developer for the The Nashville Network, an entertainer on the Belle Carol Riverboat and at Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, the author of a book about riverboat Capt. Tom Ryman and the play “The Ryman Diaries,” in which she performs. Tonight’s program is described as a celebration of Watts’ career in entertainment through songs at the piano and stories. Also a part of the evening will be an exhibit of art by Dickson resident John Reynolds. A classmate of Watts in the Dickson High School class of 1970, Reynolds is known for his pencil drawings of local landmarks that have regularly graced the covers and programs of several local events such as Old Timers Day and the Clement Railroad Hotel Museum’s fall home tour, but also has paintings of aircraft and other subjects. Watts said she also has a couple surprise musical guests who will join her. Watts also will be selling her new book, “What’s in My Stocking?,” which she describes as the story of her favorite Christmas gift. Proceeds from books sold at tonight’s event will go to the DAV’s shopping spree for children of local disabled veterans. Watts will return to the Bibb-White Bluff Civic Center at 3:30 pm Dec. 9 to read her new book in the Jennie Woodworth Memorial Library. Watts said she is currently working on a book about Tennessee’s three first ladies, Rachel Jackson, Sarah Polk and Eliza Johnson, that she hopes to turn into a one-woman show.