The trial of a man for killing a young couple and setting fire to their apartment has been scheduled for a year from now. During a hearing in Dickson County Circuit Court Tuesday, Judge Suzanne Lockert-Mash scheduled the murder trial of 38-year-old Kenneth Ray Niles for Dec. 4, 2017. In the first hearing with Niles’ new attorneys, Lockert-Mash set a deadline for discovery to be turned over and set two dates for any potential pretrial motions. In October, Lockert-Mash appointed Nashville attorneys Paul Bruno and John G. Oliva to represent Niles after District Attorney Ray Crouch Jr. filed notice that he intends to seek the death penalty if Niles is convicted. Niles is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder, aggravated arson, especially aggravated robbery, especially aggravated burglary and theft for the April 2015 deaths of 27-year-old John Christopher Goldtrap and 23-year-old Lisa Wade Mackenzie McDonald. Niles was arrested in May 2015 after Goldtrap and McDonald’s bodies were discovered in a burning duplex on McFarland Land in Dickson. Autopsies revealed both victims had been shot in the head. Niles originally was scheduled to stand trial June 6 but it was continued when the Tennessee Supreme Court suspended the law license of Centerville attorney Kenneth Crites, who had been hired by Niles. Lockert-Mash appointed Dickson attorney Jerred Creasy to represent Niles, but Creasy withdrew in July because of a conflict from having previously represented a witness in the case. Lockert-Mash appointed Clarksville attorney Chase T. Smith and set Niles’ trial for Dec. 5. But Smith withdrew in October after the notice filed by the DA because he is not qualified to represent a defendant in a death penalty case under Tennessee law. Lockert-Mash appointed Bruno as primary counsel and Oliva as co-counsel and set a hearing to issue a scheduling order for Tuesday. Lockert-Mash met with Bruno, Oliva and Crouch in chambers before taking the bench. Bruno said the defense has received discovery from the DA’s office and Crouch said he believes the prosecution has turned over all its evidence. Lockert-Mash set a deadline of Feb. 28 for any remaining discovery to be provided. She scheduled hearings on any pretrial motions for April 7 and Sept. 8 and scheduled the trial for Dec. 4, 2017. While Bruno said the defense has not yet determined its case and potential witnesses, Crouch estimated the trial could take as much as two weeks, including jury selection. Lockert-Mash said she would schedule the trial for the two weeks but also keep the following week’s docket open in case it takes more time. During Tuesday’s hearing, Bruno did not discuss with the judge the possibility of moving Niles, who is being held without bond in the Montgomery County Jail. Lockert-Mash is scheduled to be off the bench in January and February for knee surgery and retired Judge George Sexton has been appointed to preside over her dockets during her absence. Investigators say Niles reportedly argued with Goldtrap, who was a cousin by marriage, the day before the bodies were discovered. They believe Niles shot the couple the night of April 13, 2015, and stole firearms, accessories and ammunition, then returned early the next morning to set the duplex on fire to cover up the crimes. Investigators have not ruled out the possibility that another person or persons were involved in the crime, but at this point nobody else has been charged. While there are 12 pending homicide trials in Dickson County, Niles is the only defendant facing the death penalty at this time.
Questions about how a new middle/high school in Burns would affect student zoning and concerns about the proposed location’s impact on traffic and neighbors dominated the discussion at the Dickson County School Board’s second informational session on its building program at Oakmont Elementary School Tuesday night. About 40 people, many of them educators, heard board Chairman Tim Potter and Director of Schools Dr. Danny Weeks outline the general plan for the new school proposed to open in August 2019 on Highway 96 in Burns. Potter said many of the details of answers to questions will have to be determined once the Dickson County Commission makes a decision on whether to fund the new school. He said he hopes to make a comprehensive building program presentation to the commission in January. Five of six school board members and two of 12 county commissioners were in attendance Tuesday. Weeks said the plan is to open the new school with about 150 students in each grade. With an average of around 100 fifth graders coming out of Stuart-Burns Elementary School each year, Weeks said another 50 students would be rezoned primarily from the Oakmont zone to attend the new school. Potter said whether those students attend Oakmont through grade five and then go to the new middle school or are rezoned to Stuart-Burns to be a part of that cluster still must be determined. Stuart-Burns is proposed to get additional classrooms as part of the building program. As in last week’s first meeting in Burns, several people who live near the proposed school site identified as the McCall property raised concerns over the impact the school could have on their properties, what noise issues there could be and how the school will affect traffic, especially on Eastside Road where the two primary entrances to the school are proposed. At Monday night’s work session, the board’s architects discussed constructing berms and using trees and other vegetation to create a natural buffer between the school and homes. While saying he understands the concerns of some of the area residents, Potter said the school board’s job is to do what it believes is in the best interest of education in Dickson County. For more than 10 years, the school board has discussed the need for a new middle school to reduce the student population at Dickson Middle School. Counting the sixth graders at Dickson Intermediate School, there are about 1,200 students in the DMS cluster while Charlotte Middle has around 400 and William James Middle is at 300. Potter said moving some DMS students to a Burns school would allow the sixth graders to return to the main campus and leave the current Dickson Intermediate building for other uses, most likely as an elementary school that could replace Dickson Elementary and/or The Discovery School. The resulting domino effect of the new Burns school could create savings in other areas of the budget to offset some of the anticipated revenue needs for the new school. Potter said he doesn’t know from where the money to operate the Burns school will come, but also believes there is not enough information right now to determine how much additional revenue will be required. While the original plan started with just a middle school, Potter said the board no longer believes a middle school is the “optimal thing to do.” By building a middle/high school, the system addresses population and zoning issues affecting Dickson County and Creek Wood high schools. If just a middle school is built, those Burns students likely will be zoned to Creek Wood and the county will be transporting students from the south end of the county to Charlotte. Weeks said there are “a lot of efficiencies” in building a middle/high school that would share core facilities. The preliminary design presented by architects Monday night does allow for the school to be scaled back to just a middle school should the county commission decline to fund a middle/high school. But Potter said the board’s commitment is to a middle/high school in the Burns area to open in 2019 with the project including renovations and expansions at Oakmont, Stuart-Burns and White Bluff elementary schools. Weeks has said the board could hold another informational session to continue presenting its plans to the public sometime after the first of the year. Potter said he plans to meet with Mayor Bob Rial to discuss scheduling a special meeting for the school board to present its plan to the county commission.
Emily Beard sparked the Dickson County Lady Cougars to a 62-50 win at Summit Tuesday night while the Cougars had no answer for the Spartans’ new dominating center in a 75-59 loss. Senior Beard had her best offensive night of the young season with a game-high 32 points, including 13 in the third quarter when the Lady Cougars took control. Dickson County jumped in front on a Ryann Roberts three-pointer in the second period and held the lead the rest of the way to its second District 11-AAA victory. Kailey Rosenbaum added 11 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals. The Cougars had problems matching up with 6’9” Summit junior transfer Demontae Dixon, who finished with 23 points and an astounding 18 rebounds. Dickson County put together its most balanced offensive attack of the season with four players in double figures and used its speed and outside shooting to stay in the game. A Demontez Coleman jumper in the third period tied the game 43-43, but Summit went on an 11-0 run and Dickson County could never get any closer than 5 points the rest of the game. Freshman D.J. Stacey led the Cougars with 16 points while Coleman had 12 and Jacob Murphree and Darian Burns finished with 11 each. Dickson County returns home for a pair of non-district contests before heading into holiday tournaments. Beech visits Friday and the Harpeth games previously postponed have been reset for 2:30 pm Saturday. Creek Wood plays its fourth consecutive District 11-AA contests hosting Montgomery Central Thursday. The Red Hawks will play in a holiday tournament at Rossview next week while the Lady Red Hawks head to Dyersburg. The Cougars will be in action in Columbia.
Former Cougar JeQuan Lewis scored 17 points to spark a second-half comeback in VCU’s 67-64 victory at Old Dominion Saturday. Lewis led the Rams with 20 points, including 12 in a 16-1 run that gave VCU the lead for good. The Rams trailed by 11 points with 7:37 left in the game when they scored 11 straight to tie the game 55-55. Lewis hit a three-pointer and capped the run with a four-point play to forge the game’s only tie. After the Monarchs retook the lead on a free throw, Lewis scored five straight points. The senior guard hit a layup to give VCU its first lead of the game and followed with a three-pointer to extend the margin to 60-56 and the Rams never trailed again. Lewis hit 6 of 11 from the floor, including 5 of 8 treys, and 3 of 4 free throws for his game-high 20 points. He added 2 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 assist. The Rams are 7-3 and Lewis leads the team with 14.9 points per game and 31.2 minutes per game, is shooting 45 for 99 from the floor and 30 for 63 on three-pointers, all team highs, is shooting a team-best 82.9 percent from the foul line and leads the team with 44 assists while his 15 steals are second on the team. VCU hosts Middle Tennessee State in Richmond Saturday.
A man awaiting trial on murder charges has been accused of threatening to harm an investigator on the case. Special agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have charged 58-year-old Wallace Wade “Wally” Brasel with one count of retaliation for past action for a threat he allegedly made during a recorded phone conversation in the Cheatham County Jail. Brasel and his half-brother, 47-year-old Thomas Lee “Tommy” Wortham, are charged with first-degree murder and two counts of felony murder for the 1998 death of 32-year-old Eric Baxter in Dickson County. According to a statement released by the TBI Monday, Brasel had a phone conversation with a family member during which he made a threat of bodily harm against TBI Special Agent Joe Craig, who investigated Baxter’s murder. The TBI says District Attorney Ray Crouch Jr. of the 23rd Judicial District requested the agency open an investigation into the alleged threat Dec. 6. A TBI agent served the warrant on Brasel Monday in jail. Brasel was scheduled to stand trial on the murder charges Feb. 21, but it is being delayed so Wortham’s trial can begin that day. New evidence recently discovered in the investigation prompted Wortham’s Dec. 5 trial to be postponed and Judge David Wolfe said the only date available for what is expected to be at least a week-long trial is Feb. 21. Since the DA’s office chose to try Wortham first after their trials were separated in August, Wolfe bumped Brasel’s trial to hold Wortham’s on Feb. 21. Wortham and Brasel are scheduled to appear in Dickson County Circuit Court for a motions hearing Thursday and a new trial date for Brasel could be set at that time. Baxter was found shot to death in the Jones Creek Road home he shared with his mother, Joy Marsh, on Aug. 20, 1998. After a 17-investigation, Wortham was indicted for the murder in October 2015 and Brasel was indicted in April. A former detective with the Hickman County Sheriff’s Office, Wortham leased a convenience store from Baxter’s family owned company and had unsuccessfully sued the West Meade Corp. after it canceled an agreement to sell the market to Wortham when he missed a contract deadline. The indictments allege Wortham and Brasel planned to kill Marsh, too, but she was not home and discovered her son’s body when she returned from out of town that night. Investigators said Baxter was shot 6-8 times in the head, chest and hand. No murder weapon has been recovered. At a prior hearing, Wortham’s attorney said he expects there will be testimony from two men that while they were incarcerated together in the Hickman County Jail Brasel admitted shooting Baxter. Brasel remains in the Cheatham County Jail and Wortham in the Dickson County Jail on $350,000 bond each. Motions to be argued Thursday include another request to reduce their bonds.