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Jury selection begins in drag-racing trial

DEE GOODIN • May 16, 2007 at 12:09 PM

JOHNSON CITY - After denying a request to separate the trial of two men facing charges in the death of a Telford teen and severe injuries to her best friend, Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp wasted no time getting down to the business of jury selection Tuesday.

Prosecutors maintain that Cortney Hensley, David Crockett High School's 2005 homecoming queen, died Sept. 24, 2005, in a fiery crash resulting from a street race between Bradley Mullins, 19, 116 Spring City Drive, and David Phillips, 39, No. 1 Creston Court. The two are also charged in connection with serious injuries suffered by Courtney Beard.

Beard was transported to Nashville, where she spent an extended period in Vanderbilt Hospital's burn unit. Although she is able to attend the University of Tennessee, Beard still faces multiple surgeries.

Attorneys for both defendants had earlier requested Cupp separate the two trials. Richard Pectol and his associate, Jeff Miles, are representing Phillips, while Don Spurrell is representing Mullins.

Prosecutors claim the race began at the intersection of North Roan Street and Princeton Road. But Phillips' attorneys maintain there was no road race and point to their client's turn into the former Bennigan's parking lot, approximately one-half mile away from where Mullins rear-ended the Honda CRV driven by Beard at the corner of Springbrook and Roan.

Al Schmutzer, 4th Judicial District attorney general for more than 20 years, is prosecuting the case since 1st District Attorney General Tony Clark recused himself.

Cupp and the attorneys expedited jury selection, interviewing potential jurors about not only prior knowledge of the case but other issues as well.

At the end of the day, the jury box had been filled with potential jurors. Those individuals were sequestered Tuesday night. But as Cupp advised them, they could be dismissed today. The judge can dismiss jurors for what is known as cause, such as prior knowledge or for already forming an opinion about the case. The prosecution and defense are allowed eight of what are known as peremptory challenges, in which they can ask a juror be excused for no apparent reason. The two sides excused three jurors on Tuesday.

Although pleased with the pace of the proceedings, the judge was obviously displeased with the management of the Jameson Inn in Greeneville. As judge, Cupp not only is concerned with the judicial aspect of the case, but the logistical aspect as well.

While searching for a place to house the jurors, Deputy Court Clerk Tammy Tipton was stymied by the lack of rooms due to scheduled drag races in Bristol. Forced to look outside Washington County, Tipton was able to procure rooms at the Greeneville motel, but only for four days.

The races were postponed however, making hundreds of local motel rooms available, and Cupp directed Tipton to find closer quarters for the jury.

When Tipton canceled the jurors' reservations, the inn's management refused to return the more than $1,400 already received from the state of Tennessee.

Asked if he would summon the inn's management to court, Cupp said, "I don't know. But I am going to see what I can do about this situation. It's just unbelievable."Jury selection will resume at 9 this morning.

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