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Jury finds man accused in Kingsport 'beating death' case not guilty

Kacie Dingus • May 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM

UPDATE: The verdict is in, a Sullivan County jury found Eric Melvin Crowe not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the 2005 death of Robert "Bob" Tester on Wednesday afternoon around 4:15 p.m.


I don't know what happened.

This is what Crowe first told authorities who questioned him about the events which led up to Robert "Bob" Tester's death in 2005.

Crowe was arrested May 12, 2005, after police and medical personnel responded to 3413½ Memorial Blvd. about an unconscious person. When they arrived, they found Robert "Bob" Tester lying on the floor with multiple injuries "consistent with a physical attack," Kingsport Police Department Detective Jason Bellamy wrote in a court document.

Crowe's trial began Monday with Sullivan County Circuit Judge Jerry Beck presiding. After a malfunction in the room's public address system, the trial moved to Judge Montgomery's court.

Despite the public's reference to the case as the baseball bat 'beating death,' Theresa Campbell, an autopsy expert from the Sullivan County Medical Examiner's Office, testified that the ultimate cause of Tester's death was strangulation.

Closing arguments were given yesterday, and the jury has been out since about 9:45 a.m. today.

Tennessee law defines voluntary manslaughter as "the intentional or knowing killing of another in a state of passion produced by adequate provocation sufficient to lead a reasonable person to act in an irrational manner."

The jury has been out since 9:45 a.m. deliberating whether or not Eric Melvin Crowe is guilty of killing Robert "Bob" Tester in 2005 under these circumstances.

CLICK HERE to read the background of the case.

Judge Jerry Beck, in pretrial instructions, told the jury what the voluntary manslaughter charge required before they could return a guilty verdict.

Attorney Kaylin Hortenstine's closing argument focused on aligning those requirements with facts of the case brought out by evidence presentation and witness testimony.

The state's position is that "it's not self-defense," said Hortenstine.

She pointed to attorney Jim Goodwin's "powerful closing" that highlighted the web of explanations Crowe had given to various officials in the past two years since Tester's death.

Goodwin's review of Crowe's statements included highlighting three discrepancies in Crowe's retelling of the events. "First, he didn't say anything about a bat," Goodwin said.

When authorities asked if a search of the property would turn up a bat with his fingerprints on it, he then said they probably would. He explained that away by saying he'd visited his friends Scott Frickie and Tester many times before.

Crowe's most recent explanation of events points to Tester attacking him, describing his own actions as self-defense.

If convicted, Crowe faces a minimum of three to six years and a maximum penalty of 15 years, but could be eligible for parole after serving 30 percent of the sentence.

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