Bettis seeks new trial for strangling landlord in 2011

Edgar Ray Bettis
Edgar Ray Bettis

A judge is considering whether to void the conviction and order a new trial for a man found guilty of strangling his elderly landlord to death in 2011. 71-year-old Edgar Ray Bettis is currently serving a life sentence for the April 1, 2011, murder of 79-year-old Frankie L. Hudson, who was manager of the East Dickson Mobile Home Park on Highway 47 in Burns. In a hearing Monday in Dickson County Circuit Court on a motion for post-conviction relief, defense attorney William Wade argued Bettis was prejudiced by ineffective assistance of counsel during his trial. A jury convicted Bettis of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and unauthorized use of a vehicle. Judge Robert Burch sentenced Bettis to life in prison for the merged murder convictions and 11 months 29 days for joyriding, to be served concurrently. Wade claims Public Defender Jake Lockert was deficient at Bettis’ trial by not seeking a competency evaluation, by agreeing to allow a medical examiner who did not perform the autopsy to testify to the cause of death, by failing to object to autopsy photographs, by failing to object to family photos of the victim being shown to the jury, by failing to attempt to suppress a statement Bettis gave to police, by failing to secure a forensic expert to testify for the defense and by failing to pursue a potential plea bargain. If the defense had taken any of those steps, Wade said he believes “the outcome of Mr. Bettis’ trial would have been different.” During Monday’s hearing, Bettis testified he has poor eyesight, a heart condition and high blood pressure that without medication can cause him to experience delusional thoughts and disorientation. He said he never underwent a competency evaluation until last month, that he didn’t understand he waived his right to confront the doctor who performed Hudson’s autopsy and that he “probably would have” accepted a plea bargain depending on what it was. Bettis said he had not slept for 3-4 days when he was arrested in Mississippi and interviewed by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Joe Craig and Burns Police Chief Brian Johnson. Dr. Jon Garrison, a psychologist with Centerstone, testified he interviewed Bettis for about three hours in September and determined him to be competent, but he could not testify to his competency during his trial. Craig testified that there were no signs of disorientation during his interview and that Bettis “was locked in, he was focused.” Bettis reviewed and signed a statement prepared by Craig following the interview in which Bettis admitted strangling Hudson during an altercation in her home. Lockert testified he saw no signs of incompetency exhibited by Bettis in preparing for the trial. Lockert said he discussed the possibility of seeking a plea offer with Bettis but decided that even a conviction of second-degree murder would be a life sentence at Bettis’ age and he would take a chance at trial with a theory of self-defense. Lockert said he objected to Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Adele Lewis testifying to conclusions outside the report of Dr. Thomas Deering, who performed the autopsy on Hudson but was on a mission trip and unavailable for the trial. While Deering’s report listed the cause of death as multiple modality trauma, Lewis testified injuries to Hudson’s head and face were not fatal and the ultimate cause of death was manual strangulation that resulted in a broken larynx. Lockert also said he objected to an autopsy photo of the crushed larynx and Burch agreed to change the color photograph to black and white before presenting it to the jury. Lockert said he didn’t try to suppress Bettis’ statement to police because he saw no grounds to do so because “everything was done by the book” and there were no grounds for objecting to the family photographs of the victim. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Bettis’ convictions and sentence in 2013, rejecting Lockert’s claim that the evidence was insufficient and the judge erred regarding the pathologist’s testimony and autopsy photo. In his statement, Bettis said he went to Hudson’s home to pay his share of rent for the mobile home he shared with his brothers and she became angry after mistaking him for someone who previously lived in the park and owed a lot of money. He said Hudson, who was four feet 11 inches and weighed 108 pounds, attacked him with a pencil and that he struck her in the head 3-4 times with an ashtray, used a stun gun on her and choked her until she stopped fighting. Bettis took Hudson’s car and spent that night in a local motel before leaving the car at a truck stop and calling a cab to take him to the bus station in Nashville the next morning. He bought a ticket to Shreveport, La., but was detained by police in Jackson, Miss., who had been alerted by Dickson County authorities after Hudson’s body was discovered by the mobile home park’s maintenance man when she didn’t show up for work the next day. Following the 90-minute hearing Monday, Judge Larry Wallace took the motion to void Bettis’ conviction and order a new trial under advisement and said he would issue a ruling soon.

Cougars snap skid, give Murphree first region win

After building a 24-point lead in the first half, Dickson County saw Clarksville pull within three before holding on to beat the Wildcats 38-28 on Senior Night Friday. The Cougars snapped a six-game losing streak and gave coach Randy Murphree his first Region 7-5A victory. The loss officially eliminates Clarksville from playoff contention as both Dickson County and the Wildcats are 1-5 in the region and 2-7 overall. Quarterback Jacob Murphree passed for 229 yards and three touchdowns while running for the first score of the game. Murphree’s touchdown run and first scoring pass and a Noah Dawson field goal put Dickson County ahead 17-0. Murphree connected with Jack Sensing for a 24-0 lead with less than a minute remaining in the first half. But Clarksville took momentum heading into the locker room with a quick strike that led to a 7-yard score from Skyler Luna to Michael Fair just before intermission. The Wildcats continued to fight back with consecutive scores in the third period on a Brevon Johnson dive and recovered an onside kick that led to a 9-yard run by Luna to trim the difference to three at 24-21. But the Cougars answered with back-to-back scores as Darian Burns raced in from 21 yards out and Murphree connected with Trey Weidman for a 14-yard strike to push the lead back to 38-21. Johnson found the end zone again to make it 38-28 but Dickson County recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock to get the win. Murphree finished the night 16-20 for 229 yards, well below his 308-yard average, but had four total scores. The Cougars will finish the season Friday at winless West Creek. Centennial and Henry County meet in Paris in a battle to decide the Region 7-5A championship. Brentwood upset the Patriots 38-13 Friday. The Bruins and Rossview are tied at 4-2 in the battle for the last two playoff spots. Northeast is in fifth place at 3-3 and visits Rossview Friday in a battle for a playoff spot.

Kenwood dims Creek Wood’s playoff chances 49-27

Kenwood’s Antwuan Branch ran for 336 yards and six touchdowns to put Creek Wood’s postseason in jeopardy. The Knights spoiled Senior Night in Charlotte Friday with a 49-27 win over the Red Hawks. Creek Wood falls into a three-way tie for the fourth and final playoff spot and misses out on a chance to open the postseason at home. At 1-3 in Region 6-4A, Creek Wood must win Friday night at 3-1 Northwest and because of an earlier loss to Montgomery Central likely will need help to get into the playoffs. The 1-3 Indians own the head-to-head tie-breaker over Creek Wood and can secure the final playoff spot with a win over 1-3 Hillwood Friday. A Purdue signee, Branch ran for 147 yards just on his six touchdown plays. Coached by Dickson County High School graduate Brian Beaubien, Kenwood took advantage of two Creek Wood fumbles in the second half to pull away for the win. After recovering a squid kick to open the game, Creek Wood got on the board first with an 8-yard run by Quinton Poole. Branch’s first score on a 15-yard run tied the game 7-7. Branch scored on a 2-yard run to give the Knights a lead they would never relinquish. Creek Wood came back with Poole scoring on a 24-yard screen pass from Devon Higgins but the extra point was no good, leaving the Red Hawks behind 14-13. On the first play of the next drive, Branch broke free for a 69-yard score and a 21-13 lead. Branch had 180 yards rushing and three scores in the first period. Midway through the second period Trent Johnson scored on a 27-yard run to push Kenwood’s lead to 28-13. Higgins connected with Zeke Lecomte for a 20-yard score and Poole’s two-point conversion pulled Creek Wood within one score at 28-21. A Kamron Baker interception prevented Kenwood from tacking on any more points before intermission. After a Creek Wood fumble on the first possession of the second half, Kenwood marched downfield to a 39-yard score from Branch midway through the third period to go up 35-21. Creek Wood marched deep into Kenwood territory before turning the ball over on downs. A couple of penalties put the Knights in a hole and on a sack the Red Hawks recovered a fumble in the end zone and trailed 35-27 after the extra point failed. But Branch would put the game away with a 22-yard score and capped the night with a 25-yard touchdown following another Creek Wood fumble for the 49-27 win. Creek Wood finished with 261 yards of total offense for the night while Branch ran 25 times for 336 yards and six scores. The Red Hawks travel to Northwest Friday to close the regular season. With a 39-24 win over Montgomery Central Friday, the Vikings secure a playoff spot and will be fighting to play at home to open the postseason.

Dickson doubles grant money for downtown phase IV

The city of Dickson will more than double its grant funding for the next phase of the downtown revitalization project. At a special session Monday, the Dickson City Council approved a resolution authorizing Mayor Don L. Weiss Jr. to amend the city’s agreement with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to increase the funding for phase IV from $724,000 to $1.5 million. Weiss said TDOT made the additional funding available after several cities did not use their Transportation Enhancement Program grants. Special Projects Coordinator Chris Hooper told the council the city was contacted by TDOT to see if it would be interested in more money and would be able to put up the required 20 percent local match. Any funds not distributed by TDOT must be returned to the federal government. Phase IV already had grant funding of $542,722 and the city budgeted its local match plus non-reimbursable engineering costs for a project total of $724,703. Hooper said the plan for the phase is to continue the sidewalk, decorative lighting and other improvements on East College Street from Church Street to Poplar Street. But TDOT has now made additional funds of $832,000 including the city’s 20 percent match and engineering costs available for phase IV, pushing the total to more than $1.55 million. Hooper said the city’s out-of-pocket costs for its match and engineering fees will increase from $181,680 to $404,280. He said that will allow the project to extend another 800 feet from Poplar Street to Academy Street, where TDOT’s Traffic Safety Management project ended its improvements from Highway 46, closing the gap between the two projects. The downtown revitalization project is currently working on phase III on West College Street and North Main Street. Project engineers Lose and Associates are in the design phase for phase IV, which now will be extended. The city opted not to apply for phase V funding in the current grant cycle to allow the project to get farther along before seeking more funding next year. Hooper said the current city budget will have to be amended to add the additional engineering fees for the extended phase IV, but the construction costs will be included in the 2017-18 budget. The council voted unanimously with Joey Turbeville absent Monday to approve the resolution to amend the contract to accept the additional grant funding for phase IV.

Early turnout exceeds August total after first 2 days

Turnout for the first two days of early voting has already exceeded the total turnout in Dickson County prior to the Aug. 4 election and is on pace for a new record. Lines were reported at both polling locations Thursday with waits of 45 minutes to an hour at times in Dickson. Administrator of Elections Roxanne Hagewood reports that 2,049 early votes and absentee ballots were cast Wednesday and Thursday. Early voting opened at locations in Dickson and Charlotte with 905 ballots on Wednesday. Thursday was the first opportunity to take advantage of extended early voting hours as polls at both locations were open until 8 pm. Hagewood reports 1,126 early votes were cast at the two polling places and the election office received 18 absentee ballots by mail for a total day’s turnout of 1,144. The 2,049 early and absentee ballots recorded for the first two days is more than the 1,652 early and absentee ballots received in the entire two-week period prior to the August election and more than the 1,842 cast prior to the March Presidential Preference Primary. Dickson County’s record for early voting turnout is 8,711 in the November 2012 election when Pres. Obama won his second term over Mitt Romney. At a pace of 1,000 votes a day, the 14-day early voting period would easily exceed that total. Early voting continues 8 am-4 pm Friday at the Dickson County Election Office in Charlotte and the Restoration Church in Dickson. Both locations will be open for early voting 9 am-noon Saturday. Next week starts with early voting 8 am-4 pm Monday and Tuesday only in Charlotte. Early voting ends Nov. 3 and election day is Nov. 8. The deadline to file an application to vote absentee by mail is Nov. 1. The ballot across Dickson County includes the races for President, U.S. House of Representatives in the 5th District and Tennessee House of Representatives in the 69th or 78th district. White Bluff, Burns, Vanleer and Slayden are holding municipal elections and Charlotte has a liquor-by-the-drink referendum. Voters must present a voter registration card and valid photo ID when casting their ballots. For more information on early or absentee voting, contact the Dickson County Election Office at 615-671-1146.