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Defendants in drag racing death seek separate trials

May 15th, 2007 12:00 am by DEE GOODIN



JOHNSON CITY - The first day of proceedings in the widely publicized trial of two men charged with second-degree murder in the vehicular death of one teen and severe injuries to another saw a flurry of pretrial motions, including a request to separate the trials of the two.


Bradley Mullins, 19, 116 Spring City Drive, and David Phillips, 39, No. 1 Creston Court, are charged in the Sept. 24, 2005, death of Cortney Hensley, David Crockett High School's 2005 homecoming queen, and serious injuries suffered by her best friend, Courtney Beard of Erwin.


Beard spent an extended period in Vanderbilt Hospital's burn unit in Nashville, and while she is still being treated for those injuries she is a student at the University of Tennessee.


While jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday morning, potential jurors in the trial of were sent home about 10 a.m. by Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp.


"There could be a point we could start this afternoon, but that's not fair to you," Cupp said, instructing the potential jurors to return at 9 a.m. this morning.


Richard Pectol and his associate, Jeff Miles, are representing Phillips. Don Spurrell, representing Mullins, explained Monday why he wanted the cases of the two men separated.


"There's a statement that indicates a couple of weeks prior (to the incident) at this same time of night (Phillips) ... was trying induce an adult driver into a road race."


Pectol and Miles said they agreed with separating the cases.


"Mr. Mullins alleges Mr. Phillips was, for lack of a better expression, egging him on, inciting things," Miles said.


But Cupp seemed resistant to the suggestion of separation.


"I'm having a problem with the severance issue," he said.


Cupp is presiding over the case as a result of Judge Lynn Brown's recusal of himself at the request of Al Schmutzer, who is prosecuting the case after 1st Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark recused himself.


Schmutzer also questioned the necessity of severing the cases.


"The bottom line is, is it necessary to decide the guilt or innocence of the defendants?" Schmutzer said.


Miles complained to the judge Monday of "one-sided" press coverage and "inaccurate reporting," leading to what he called a tainted jury.


"I don't believe that," Cupp said. "We don't decide cases like that."


Spurrell continued to press for a severance of the cases, "hoping (Mr. Phillips) will come clean and testify honestly that he induced this young man into a drag race."


Before she left the courtroom Monday, one potential juror asked Cupp if the jury would be sequestered. Cupp assured her that if that were the case the jury would be housed in the "finest facilities we can." Sequestering has been an issue since last week, when it was revealed the case would receive national coverage.


Cupp also told the families of both the victims and the defendants to restrain themselves from reacting to testimony during the trial. He further instructed the Washington County Sheriff's Office to prevent any cars from entering the courthouse parking lot sporting signs that express support.


Court will resume at 9 a.m. today.


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