Adam Braseel was convicted in Grundy county TN, of murder and assault on November 9th, 2007. On 2010, his direct appeal to the Criminal Court of Appeals was denied. His case was remanded back to the 12th circuit court where an application for Post-Conviction relief sat languishing at the court until newly elected Judge Justin Angel agreed to hear the case. On Christmas day, of 2015, Angel granted post-conviction relief on the grounds of ineffective counsel.
Adam was soon given bond and freed to his family; presumably to await a new trial date.
Instead, something unusual happened. In September of 2016, the State of Tennessee intervened –attacking judge Angel, his findings, his jurisdictional right of powers of jury and ultimately reversing his decision to vacate — Adam Braseel’s conviction for murder and assault were reinstated.
Even more unusual to me, being that, a month before the decision was handed down, a regional contact informed me he overheard two lawyers saying they read the opinion, the court would be handing judge Angel his ass.
If there is a theme in the Adam Braseel case and the 12th circuit, it is turf wars. drugs, inept tainted police, inexplicable court behaviors and corrupt doctors.
DA Mike Taylors statement in Braseel’s preliminary hearing can’t be ignored.
“If we had to wait for evidence to be tested before proceeding with prosecutions the back log would be ungodly.”
I respectfully disagree Mr Taylor, I see the case load lightening when refraining from prosecuting cases with no evidence. I have never heard a statement that more clearly demonstrates what is wrong with the mind set to prosecute at all costs.
A similar statement is seen by lead investigator TBI agent Larry Davis on 1-9-06, the third day after the murder, after Braseel voluntarily surrendered his vehicle to be tested. His reward for cooperating is this statement on the evidence tag to the lab:
“The above subject (Adam Braseel) beat Burrows to death, robbed him, went to victim’s house, beat his sister Becky Hill severely until stopped by victim Hill’s son.”
Clearly, Davis, from this point, would not be following any other of the many other leads in the case. He had his man. This day is before any witness identification was made. Before Hill was even released from the hospital and made a statement!
A brief history of Post-Conviction relief in TN :
By the mid-1960s it was clear that Tennessee post-conviction procedures needed to be revised. Federal courts frequently heard post-conviction claims of Tennessee prisoners that had been considered inadequately or had never been considered at all in the Tennessee court system. Tennessee habeas corpus law and procedures permitting limited collateral attack on convictions did not provide collateral hearings and relief equivalent to the federal habeas corpus relief mandated by a 1963 trilogy of United States Supreme Court cases. 3 The 1965 Supreme Court decision in Case v. Nebraska 4 highlighted the need for better post-conviction procedures and gave impetus to a movement for reform in Tennessee
Case v Nebraska summation:
Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition in a Nebraska state court claiming unconstitutional denial of the right to counsel when he pleaded guilty to a burglary charge. The State Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the petition on the ground that habeas corpus was unavailable in Nebraska to release a prisoner if the sentencing court had requisite jurisdiction and the sentence was within its power. After this Court granted certiorari, Nebraska enacted a post-conviction procedure statute apparently providing a hearing for petitions such as petitioner’s.
Held: the judgment is vacated, and the cause remanded to the Nebraska Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of the supervening statute.
In understating the appeals process, know that the higher appeals court does not usually review evidence and focuses on matters of law and court error. The post-conviction hearing at the circuit level is the chance a defendant has to present evidence before a judge. Adam Braseel had this chance, won, and then the entire post-conviction process was stripped away as if it never happened. It is now being appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court
Braseel’s case has its own unique set of circumstances. As some evidence that should be presented is simply missing and always has been. And at present, no agency wants to officially acknowledge why. In overturning a case, feathers are often ruffled, the newer judge Angel, in vacating Braseel’s conviction was already going far in calling out corruptions of the past. To go further might have seemed imprudent.
Angel is one of handful of circuit judges. Newly elected, and the youngest. His decision flew in the face of status quo. It challenged procedure of the Sheriff and DA when deciding that two separate photo-lineups were unduly suggestive and should have been challenged by Braseel’s defense attorneys.
His decision also challenges District Attorney Michael Taylor, asst Steve Strain and the TBI. As while the post-conviction appeal was somewhat benign and cordial by Attorney Douglas Trant, the undercurrent contains much more serious allegations of misconduct. Ones that all parties are quite aware of. Illustrated by original trial judge Perry’s comment to local investigator Joe Brodio, that Perry thought Angel turned the case over because the TBI had moved evidence around and lied about it. He was surprised when he saw the ruling and that was not in there.
Douglas Trant has been replaced by Alex Little in anticipation that the court has moved back 50 years in its ruling and taken a posture of attacking the post-conviction process itself. While there may still be relief in TN, preparations are being made for a federal case where the gloves come off completely, and all newly discovered evidence comes to the table. Something neither the DA or the higher court appears to welcome or be interested in.
It should be noted that as of this date, Dec 20th,2016 , the Grundy County Sheriff’s office is in violation of a FOI request for the files from former Sheriff Brent Myers tenure. It is not that any expect to get the files, it is that the circuit refuses to acknowledge why they are missing so a hearing can document what should be there — to aid in the defense. Rather than the primitive “guess there’s nothing to see, is there.” Similar to Malcolm Burrows house which by the time of Adam’s hearing was too “Missing.” Another simple explanation – “it got burned out. You don’t know Grundy do you?”
I understand, as well as many others including the judges up and down the chain. Grundy County, the poorest county in the State, plagued with drug and crime problems has a certain reputation.
In this light, District Attorney Taylor’s statement about “backlog,” comes off as an implication Grundy is some kind of wild animal cage that requires special handling of the beasts. And he is the handler.
In other words, if you go up on that Mountain, don’t expect any help. You get what you deserve.
Even the ACLU’s legal director tells me “Oh, up there, well don’t expect much justice.”
However, a man’s freedom is at stake. And so is the reputation of the justice “for all” system we have agreed upon by our unifying document. The constitution and Bill of rights.
Perhaps then it is only lip service when current Sheriff Shrum states in an email that he was told “the corruptions of the past administration were corrected by the election.”
An implied promise of a new era? Perhaps.Yet try telling that to Adam Braseel or others with shaky cases still in prison from “The past corruptions.”
And who told him this?
The interior of the Braseel case is what we see in the court record. A procedurally limiting scope in which Braseel must walk through for the moment until new evidence can be heard. However, there is a much more vivid story on the exterior that can’t be ignored. A history, any player in law enforcement in the 12th circuit and Grundy would surely know, while a judge in the higher court up north in Nashville may not. An important distinction for the question of jurisdiction no on the table.
This investigator made two pertinent discoveries. One being an arrest record of witness Braden for domestic assault. This was found not in the usual places of official record, but in the archives of the Grundy County Herald. Raising the question of why there was no external record of this arrest. And upon further inquiry it is discovered that all records of former Sherriff Myers tenure were destroyed, missing or not being produced.
In addition, while informally questioning officers Caldwell and West, first respondents to the crime scene, the response to being asked about this arrest record of a man found at the assault scene was – “that was not unusual. Police were always up there,” or “the neighbors were calling in domestic fights all the time.”
When interviewing officer Caldwell’s then girlfriend, she offered that when James returned from the crime scene he told her it was an “inside job,” She also said she often made out James’ police reports for him because her handwriting was neater.
This raises the serous question — that when police responded to the assault call on Becky Hill and found her son there, knowing there was a history of domestic violence according to the very officers, how is it that Kirk Braden was not considered a suspect. Instead being allowed to point the finger elsewhere. Being made privy of investigation information to build a story piece by piece. A timeline of identification that changes and fills in at each point the police learn a detail from the defendant or his possessions. Each detail finding it’s way into the story to convict.
A picture taken of Braseel the night after the murder shows a mark on his face. Subsequent statements by Braden then include him punching him.
Braden goes to the sheriff and is shown Braseel’s car.
After this point Braden is when Braden claims he saw a car with a sunroof and a dent in the fender when he failed to do so in the initial police reports.
Neighbor Jeff White testified that when he talked to Braden at the crime scene he was told the assailant ran off on foot. No car. The car element likely coming from White himself as his wife had seen a gold colored car earlier in the afternoon. And there is no-reason not to believe either of the White’s told the police this in Braden’s presence or the police asked a Braden a question like – “The neighbor saw a gold colored car, did you see it?.”
Much of this might be cleared up if TBI agent Davis would release his interviews with both of the Whites. Possible exculpatory evidence withheld from the defense. Part of many. And the mere fact he won’t surrender these, leads me to believe they simply went looking for someone with a gold colored car similar to that Angie White saw, and then twisted and bent the case around the first person they liked for the prosecution. When after a week went by another witness made a report of seeing a gold colored car at the crime scene driven by someone clearly not the defendant, some with Black hair with a blonde-haired woman, the wheels were already rolling on Braseel and that report was altered by Sheriff Myers to fit Braseel. Myers claiming the witness said he saw a red-haired man driving the car.
The conviction was unusual as there were two separate crime scenes.
Since the body of Malcolm Burrows was found near his house near his sister Becky’s car found on the side of the road, the premise was, that whoever assaulted Becky Hill, must have murdered Malcolm Burrows.
To explain the car on the side of the road, Kirk Braden told police a man had come to the house while he was sleeping. That his car had broken down and Malcom went off to help him. The man then came back and assaulted his mother, which woke him up. He then chased the man off.
While domestic violence between Braden and his mother was new information to this investigator, there is no reason to believe it was not common knowledge in the judicial circuit by the many statements of local officers in private emails.
Furthermore, I would find it hard to believe I was the first person that present Sheriff Clint Shrum told that all files were missing from the former Sherriff’s tenure.
Back to the appeal.
The question of whether the photo line-up was permissively suggestive in Kirk Braden’s case, rests on the word of Sheriff Brent Myers. There is no record that Kirk Braden went to the Sheriff’s office, no report made of which photo he picked out. Only testimony over a year later in which it was acknowledged there was no photo-line up, but pictures strewn over the Sheriff’s desk and one in his hand or on top of a stack depending on who does the telling. The story being that Kirk had practically busted in Myers office while he was getting the line-up ready. This is the excuse as why Braden saw one photo first. Yet there were other photos on his desk, he claimed. Still, there is no record report of this taking place. After asking many police officials they find this most unusual.
A single photo-lineup — where an officer picks up one photo and says “is this the man who did it?” is illegal.
And consider the reasons. If Braden was a suspect and assaulted his mother and or killed Malcolm Burrows, and realizes the Sheriff has a suspect in mind, he would be a fool not to say – “Yeah, that’s him.”
It is interesting to note that at trial, Braden admitted he knew who Adam Braseel was, he had met him before the murder. He said he forgot about knowing him.
He forgot, or, once the Sheriff showed him his suspect, he had no choice but to change the story he told police – that he had never seen his mother’s attacker before. He could make out all types of features of the assailant and his vehicle, just didn’t remember he met him before.
Anything is possible.
In the case of witness identification by Becky Hill of Adam Braseel, what stands out is there are no less than three dates on which this occurred. TBI Agent Larry Davis report claims it was January 17th. Sheriff Myers report claims it was January 16th, yet the preliminary hearing testimony of Becky Hill clearly shows Hill believed she was shown photos on January 12th, the day she got out of the hospital.
Again, all of this would be simpler if there was a report in existence that a photo-lineup had occurred. It is simply hard to believe that one was never made. That a witness identifies a photo and the police don’t write down which one it is.
Or if there was a report made, it disappeared with the rest of the files,
To add to this confusion, deputy Lonnie Cleek, who was in charge of Hill’s line-up process, picked out the wrong picture in court. It was not Adam Braseel he indicated when saying the photo third from the right. But of another young man who looked somewhat like Adam Braseel.
Lonnie Cleek made an additional claim that he brought photos to Hill’s sisters house on the 12th, but she was in bed sick, and so he couldn’t show them to her.
A statement inconsistent with Hills from the preliminary hearing, where she says she went into her sister’s kitchen and was shown photos.
“I looked at the photo and knowed him.”
Whatever had changed between the preliminary hearing and trial for police to deny Hill saw the photos on the 12th is not readily clear, but there is a clue.
While Cleek denies showing her photos on this date, there is a document hard to ignore. The only statement recorded by Hill. Taken by Lonnie Cleek. It is dated January the 12th, the day Cleek said she was in bed and too sick.
The statement makes no identification of her assailant. Does not say he had red hair, or had a ball cap. Simply saying the person who attacked her had been there earlier in the afternoon. Saying he came back later in the evening when his car broke down, then coming back again after that to assault her.
Clearly there is a problem with this statement for the police.
There is no prosecution timeline for Adam Braseel being at the crime scene earlier in the afternoon. His whereabouts being spoken for by Charles Partin and never contested.
If Cleek’s claims that Hill was sick in bed seem questionable, they pale in comparison to the court of appeals claim:
“Chief Deputy Cleek testified at trial that the first time he went to talk with her, Ms. Hill was in no position to either give a statement or look at pictures because she was unconscious.”
Unconscious. Wow. That’s one way to wiggle out.
Or perhaps this is the way the appeals court sees itself helping. As while this is not the testimony of Cleek, it might of well have been. And of course, clearly not true, as proved by the statement itself dated the 12th — the only “first time.” And the preliminary testimony of Hill when she is quite conscious and in her sisters kitchen.
Noted, Ms Hill makes two claims in her testimony. One: she was heavily medicated and two: they gave her medication but she didn’t like taking them and only took a total of three. These statements vary depending on which question she was answering.
Though this may seem a somewhat callous opinion of testimony, it was formulated after discovering the VIN number taken of Becky Hill’s car by officer Caldwell didn’t match the VIN of the car received by the lab. While it might be interesting to contemplate a switcheroo by police, the facts do bear out that Ms Hill’s car had two VIN numbers, The car being a Chrysler registered as a Honda and the ignition was torn out, it was hotwired.
The car itself has two stories. As does the court of appeals.
In dismissing the claim that Cleek and then Hill by extension, mis-identified Braseel in the phot-line up at trial itself, the court claimed the photo-line-up was not in the court record and could not be considered! As if it did not exist. Extremely bizarre, as earlier in the opinion the court makes great issue that they found a duplicate of the photo-lineup and makes great issue of this to counter another claim the line-up was missing!
The duality of the courts claim is most alarming when seen as using any means necessary to shoot down judge Angels decision.
On inspection of Sheriff Myers crime scene report, I noted two persons who were never followed up on. Listed as “Trey Meeks and his girlfriend.” I identified “the girlfriend”, and upon interview admitted she had been at Malcolm Burrows house around the time of the murder and was part of a business run by Malcolm Burrows.
In the 2016 initiating documents brought by the attorney General’s office, Malcolm Burrows is depicted as a shade-tree mechanic, who would often go outside to help people with their cars.
On the other hand, “The girlfriend,” who I will not identify at this time, states Malcolm Burrows was a drug dealer who would often go outside his house to make prescription drug transactions. Her, and Trey Meeks, would go to Malcolm’s to get money, then go to various doctors, get prescriptions for narcotics, fill the prescriptions, and then bring them back to Malcolm’s — splitting the proceeds. In this way, by having multiple runners, Malcolm Burrows could profit handsomely off the prescription drug business.
“The girflriend” said she was at Malcolm’s sometime in the afternoon, though she knows where she was at the time of the murder. On a bridge outside Chattanooga. Trey woke her up and told her Malcolm’s dead.
So even by 2016, ten years after the crime, the state continues a myth of Malcolm Burrows. Understandably, but wrongly, to protect its witness testimony. The only evidence convicting Adam Braseel.
Burrows high blood level of oxycodone and soma was never brought up in court. A familiar mix known as a Las Vegas Cocktail, which produces the stronger heroin high. Again, it is hard to imagine while the coroner is right there on the stand, how this fact could possibly not be brought out.
Nor was any aspect of Malcom Burrows real business brought up at any time in any court proceedings.
To call Malcolm Burrows a “Shade Tree Mechanic,” is like saying the Corleone family was in the olive oil business. While that might be true in some respect, it hardly represents the true state of affairs. Malcolm Burrows was in a turf war. His partnership in the Community Medical Center of Monteagle was falling apart.
The appeal filed by Braseel’s second attorney Douglas Trant is centered on ineffective counsel of Braseel’s first attorneys, Floyd Davis and Bob Peters.
Though superficially good enough to overturn in context, this appeal can now be considered lacking in at least one important regard. It failed to bring up a very important document in the case. A witness statement by a one Jay Douglas, who states he saw a gold colored vehicle at the Burrows house in the afternoon around the time of the murder.
This document might have less than vital significance if one: it could be found listed in discovery and two: had the Sheriff not altered the statement made by Douglas to fit Adam Braseel in his report.
Douglas says he saw a dark-haired man and a blonde in the car. Sheriff Myers says Douglas stated he saw a car driven by a lone red-haired man. Adam Braseel has red hair.
This is not the only time Myers or other officers are quick to alter facts to make their the case.
But a legal question now arises, when did this report enter the case file, as no one seems to know or admit to knowing.
Obviously, any competent defense lawyer would have confronted the sheriff with this statement and said “hold on, here’s your gold colored car, and the driver is certainly not Braseel. Why did you alter it if not to frame a case around Braseel?”
The Attorney General and/or the Court of Appeals has a similar altering of facts surrounding “the gold colored car.” In 2010, when denying Adam relief, it cited what it called corroborating evidence. A gold colored car seen by neighbor Angie White in the afternoon.
At this point I remind the reader that we now have prime witness Becky Hill, Jay Douglas, Angie white and “the girlfriend” talking about events taking place in the afternoon. A time NOT in the prosecution timeline. Yet with all the element of the state’s case. A gold colored car, and people coming to get something from Malcolm.
James Woodall, in writing the opinion claims Angie White testified the car she saw had a “particular dent” that matched the dent in Adam Braseel’s gold colored car. This is not true. When Angie White was shown a picture of Adam’s car with the dent, she told prosecutor Steve Strain in court – “that’s not the car, the car I saw had no dent.”
Those being accused of crime should be terrified at this point as Woodall goes on to say that since the car with the dent was seen in the afternoon, that proves premeditated murder.
No, what that proves, if you read the transcript correctly and stop burying evidence is there is another conclusion to be drawn — someone other than Adam Braseel was in a gold colored car at Malcolm Burrows house.
It should be noted that Adam Braseel’s car, as well as his clothing was fully tested for blood and DNA evidence, for two bloody crimes. He surrendered his car willingly and not only was no blood found, one has two ask the question: if Adam Braseel had committed the crime, how could he be so confident to surrender a car and clothing that would surely have blood and DNA traces after walking through the bloody floor and fighting with Braden as was claimed. Both witnesses say the assailant wore no gloves.
One could argue the least likely of the gold colored cars seen at the crime scene would be Adam Braseel’s.
These misconstruances of fact in the court of appeals record don’t end here. The court claims that ‘Sgt. Troy Brown found Malcolm Burrows body.’ A seeming innocuous error perhaps, until you look back at the case and realize that Sgt Mike Brown, who did discover the body, never testified in court.
Mike Brown was the Grundy County investigator. He arrived and processed the assault scene, and then upon leaving, stopped at a car on the side of the road and then discovered the body of Malcolm Burrows.
There are now two versions of these events that vary wildly. One being the hearsay testimony of deputy Andy West and Agent Larry Davis of what Mike Brown did or didn’t discover or do. The other being a taped interview of Mike Brown some ten years later.
Brown on looking back says Sheriff Myers and deputy Lonnie Cleek took over the case after the second day. Not too long after this, his wife died, he retired and he moved out of state. He said though, when he heard Adams case was up for trial, he called the DA and said he should testify, but was told he wasn’t needed.
Brown says when he found Malcolm’s body, his wallet was in his back pocket. He turned the body over to Larry Davis, the sheriff and Lonnie cleek and went back on patrol. The photos taken by Larry Davis don’t show a wallet in Malcolm’s back pocket. And in court the theft of this wallet is the sole motive for murder offered.
Agent Larry Davis, in this case, cannot be viewed as a truth teller. As his testimony in trial is simply not true. Whoever’s story between the various police officers is true or not, one thing can’t be refuted, — the testimony given by Davis at trial is not what he testified to at the preliminary hearing.
Davis said he got to the crime scene and was told by Brown that there had been weapons in the house that were removed before he arrived. He then put these weapons back where Brown said he found them and took pictures of them as evidence of where they were.
However, at trial, Davis tells the court the crime scene was secure when he got there and he was the one who found the weapons. Leaving out Brown altogether.
But where is Brown? Why did the DA not want him to testify?
At this point we have the hard facts of altering evidence by three officers: Cleek, Myers and Davis.
Cleek, who claimed on the stand that Hill was in bed too sick to see the line-up or make a statement, when we have a statement dated from that day, and the preliminary testimony of Hill saying she was not in bed but in her sister’s kitchen looking at photos.
Myers, who altered the Jay Douglas Statement.
Davis, who altered his testimony and clearly lied about the weapons being retrieved from a secure crime scene.
The two weapons are a small broken ball bat and a fire extinguisher. Kirk Braden claims the assailant threw the fire extinguisher at him, hitting him in the shoulder. Only the ball bat was found to have blood on it. Blood matching Becky Hill.
However, it is not what was found on the weapons that is relevant, it is the fact we have no idea where these were found. Where they were before they were placed in the house. Or if they were taken from the house and put back, or what evidence was lost from these items being moved.
The prosecution has no right to use these weapons in its story telling if it is deceptive about where they came from. And we know they were not in the house when Davis arrived. Brown did not testify nor make a report on finding these weapons. Both Mike Taylor and Steve Strain were present at the preliminary hearing and heard Larry Davis testify he put the weapons in the house. Yet not what he testified to at trial.
There simply is no excuse for this.
Browns claim about the wallet may be true or not, but does this matter? One thing is clear is that the various versions from the police don’t add up. It is agreed that a set of golf clubs were stolen from Braseel’s car when it was confiscated and sat outside the jail. Evidence theft is a historical problem in Grundy County.
From the get go, the major question in the case has been: how did Adam Braseels name get in the mix. As police were after him before any alleged identification was made,
Agent Davis said incoming information came from Lonnie Cleek. But Brown says he got a tip from a woman named April Cordova when he asked if she knew anyone with red hair. He says he didn’t know anyone with red hair.
Kirk Braden and his brother both have red hair. So does Lonnie Cleek. So does Kirk’s relative Kirby Crabtree as well as many other people on the mountain with motive to kill Malcolm. The question might have been better phrased; who do you know off the mountain with red hair? That’s your man.
Someone who will not lead back to the drug ring that April was part of.
What about Adam Braseel’s attorneys in all of this?
When Imojean hired lawyer Flossy Davis for her son, she thought an ex judge would be good for the job. She didn’t know Flossy had been indicted 51 times as a judge and had represented infamous doctor Dewey in his pill mill cases. Nor did she know Malcom was involved in his own Pill Mill with nurse Garner and Doctor Florence. She didn’t know that Sheriff Myers was backed for election by Mike Yarworth, owner of Mike’s Pharmacy and his own Tracy Clinic which had Dr. Florence and Dr. Brandon on staff as prescription writers. Yarworth being Myer’s uncle. And she didn’t know Yarworth owned the local TV station who were filming her son’s trial.
She didn’t know that Jury foreman Steve Trussler was a doctor’s father who shared space with Albert Brandon tied to Yarworth’s clinic. That he practically raised Sheriff Myers in his home.
She did know something was up when Flossy told her that judge Nelson Layne was the investigator he got for the case. Layne was also the Burrows lawyer. He represented the very people that created snitch statements against Adam. All involved in the pill business.
Imojean was told by Malcolm’s brother he knew Adam didn’t do it, it was an inside job. None of them in Tracy City even knew who Adam was before this happened.
He said his brother was killed because Malcolm killed nurse Garners horses.
Imojean did not know what that meant.
Teresa Layne knew what that meant, she told the sheriff that nurse Garner, who she worked for, had cut Malcolm off from scripts. And he killed her horses. She owed him 60 thousand dollars he gave her to start her clinic. Myers ignored this, he had his man.
Larry Davis later said he talked to Garner and she lawyered up and refused to talk. And that was the end of that.
Garner opened her clinic one month after the intractable pain act was passed by the Tennessee State senate after an eleven-minute discussion. She was later arrested and her clinic was closed.
Dr. Florence is under indictment by the federal government, but what about Adam Braseel?
The case is now in front of the State Supreme Court. One question being argued is about Judge Angel’s jurisdiction. How the Criminal Court of Appeals took that away — claiming they are a better finder of fact, though they demonstrate otherwise.
But behind all the jargon and argument, it appears a simpler case, where the old guard is protecting itself, ignoring their own dirty laundry. It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court reacts. Whether they will ignore the reality and continue a Three Card Monte with the facts, driving the court system back fifty years — to the time when the federal court had to step in.