By MATTHEW LANE
BLOUNTVILLE — Megan Boswell, charged in the death of her daughter, Evelyn Mae Boswell, will go to trial roughly one year from now.
Judge Jim Goodwin set a trial date of Sept. 26, 2022 at 8:30 a.m. during a hearing Thursday morning in Sullivan County Criminal Court. The trial is expected to last three to four weeks.
Goodwin also set a number of other hearing dates in connection with the case.
• March 1, 2022: motions filing and jury questionnaire deadline.
• April 7, 2022: motion hearing where the issue of change of venue will be decided.
• May 15, 2022: deadline to submit exhibits.
• June 1, 2022: deadline for a negotiated settlement.
• July 28, 2022: pre-trial motions hearing.
“I’m going to prepare a jury questionnaire just on publicity and submit that to an upcoming jury panel, just to gauge their temperature on publicity,” Goodwin told attorneys on Thursday.
“That way when we get to April, we’ll have some data on making a decision on whether to approve or deny the change of venue motion.”
Boswell’s attorney, Brad Sproles, filed two motions on Wednesday for severance in the case and a request to reduce his client’s bond. Sproles hopes to sever the false reporting charges against Boswell and try them separately from the other charges.
Boswell, who appeared in court during Thursday’s hearing, is being held in the Sullivan County Jail on $1 million bond. The state is seeking life without parole for Boswell.
Goodwin said the severance issue would be reserved for the April 7 motion hearing date, while the matter of bond would be handled at a hearing on Dec. 3 at 1:30 p.m.
With no other matters to discuss, Goodwin adjourned Thursday’s 20-minute hearing.
Evelyn was reported missing by a family member on Feb. 18, 2020. She hadn’t been seen since December, and her body was found in a shed on property owned by a family member on March 6, 2020.
At the time the body was discovered, investigators said the toddler’s remains were dressed in clothing matching what she was reportedly wearing when she was last seen.
Boswell is charged with two counts of felony murder and also is charged with one count of aggravated child abuse; one count of aggravated child neglect; one count of tampering with evidence; one count of abuse of a corpse; one count of failure to report a death under suspicious, unusual, or unnatural circumstances; and 12 counts of false reports.
District Attorney General Barry Staubus said evidence in this case includes 87,000 images, 57 hours of video footage, 18 hours of audio recordings, 28,000 text messages and more than 24,000 pages of social media.
Boswell pleaded not guilty last August.
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An International Food Fair, sponsored by the Northeast State Community College's International Education Committee, served free Japanese, Greek and Chinese food to students at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education Thursday. The Kingsport Edo's food served by Meemee Hu was teriyaki fried rice and shrimp. The Magic Wok of Johnson City served sesame chicken, general's chicken, crab rangoon and egg rolls. Food from the Mad Greek, with locations in Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City, was served by Northeast Spanish instructor and International Education Committee member Norma Sanchez Webb. The Greek offering was Spanakopita, a spinach pie made of feta, spinach and phyllo dough. The committee also sponsors travel abroad, which has been halted because of COVID-19, and other projects to bring attention to international cultures.
By LOLITA C. BALDOR and ROBERT BURNS
WASHINGTON — The number of U.S. military suicides jumped by 15% last year, fueled by significant increases in the Army and Marine Corps that senior leaders called troubling. They urged more effort to reverse the trend.
According to data released Thursday, there were 580 suicides last year compared with 504 the prior year. Of those, the number of suicides by Army National Guard troops jumped by about 35%, from 76 in 2019 to 103 last year, and the active duty Army saw a nearly 20% rise. Marine Corps suicides went up by more than 30%, from 47 to 62; while the Marine Corps Reserves went from nine deaths to 10.
“The findings are troubling,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. “Suicide rates among our service members and military families are still too high, and the trends are not going in the right direction.”
Suicide has long been a problem in the U.S. military. While the causes of suicide are complex and not fully understood, military leaders have previously said they believed the COVID-19 pandemic was adding stress to an already strained force. Troops last year were called to help provide testing and later vaccines while struggling with the virus themselves and among relatives and friends.
They also dealt with continued war-zone deployments, national disasters and often violent civil unrest.
Behavioral research has linked military suicides to a range of personal issues, including financial and marital stress.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby acknowledged the Defense Department cannot fully explain the increases in suicides in recent years.
“One of the things that is bedeviling about suicide is that it’s often very hard to connect dots in causality — what leads somebody to make that decision,” Kirby said. “It’s difficult to denote specific causality with suicide on an individual basis, let alone on an institutional basis. And I think that’s why it’s so difficult for us to speak to it with any specificity, except to say we take this very, very seriously.”
Military leaders for a number of years have sought to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health assistance.
That message was conveyed in a remarkable public statement last year by Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said he sought help while heading U.S. Strategic Command from 2016 to 2019. He didn’t reveal details but said he saw a psychiatrist – a rare public admission by a senior officer.
Army leaders on Thursday called suicide a significant challenge for the service, noting that the trend has been increasing for the last five years.
“While there is no clear understanding of what is causing the increase in suicides, we realize we have to do better in preventing suicide and ensure resources are available and readily accessible,” said Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Gen. James C. McConville, Army chief of staff, in a statement.
The total number of Navy suicides dipped from 81 to 79, and the Air Force stayed the same, at 109.
Defense officials told Pentagon reporters Thursday that the rate of suicides per 100,000 service members did not increase by a “statistically significant” amount, saying it was within the margin of error. Department data showed that the rates increased across the board for the active duty, Guard and Reserves, by between two and seven suicides per 100,000.
Army Maj. Gen. Clement Coward, acting executive director for the Force Resiliency office, said the department did not see a “statistical change in suicide rates” to indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact.
But, he added, that they are still looking at the issue. “We have always known that COVID, and the measures to respond to it, have presented unique challenges that would include risk factors for some folks,” he said.
He and Karin Orvis, director of the department’s suicide prevention office, acknowledged that the overall trend indicates the department must do more to reduce the stigma of seeking help.
“Preventing suicide across our total forces is top priority,” said Orvis. “These trends do not rest well with me, or the department. I fully realize we have more work to do.”
According to the Pentagon, enlisted male service members under the age of 30 were most at risk for suicide. While they make up less than 42% of the total force, men under 30 accounted for about 63% of the suicide deaths.
By far, the most common method of suicide was a gun, followed by hanging or asphyxiation.
Coward said the military suicide rates were comparable to civilian U.S. rates. The use of a firearm was more frequent within the military than the civilian population.
By MARINA WATERS
WASHINGTON — Congresswoman Diana Harshbarger has officially seen her first bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Harshbarger’s Department of Homeland Security Contract Reporting Act of 2021 requires a public daily report of all contracts with the DHS for more than $4 million. The bill passed on a voice vote on the House floor and now awaits consideration by the Senate.
“Today, I have delivered on my promise to play a part in holding the Biden administration accountable on their self-inflicted border crisis,” Harshbarger said in a statement on Wednesday after the House approved the bill.
“The DHS Contract and Reporting Act will require transparent reporting on contract awards granted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security so we taxpayers know how our federal tax dollars are being spent. This is important given the disturbing lack of transparency by Biden’s DHS on where migrants are going once they’re released into the United States, including those here in Tennessee. With greater transparency comes greater accountability. The Biden administration must stop acting in secrecy.”
Harshbarger introduced the bill in July. She told the Times News last month she created the bill after few details were offered regarding planes that landed in Knoxville and Chattanooga reportedly carrying unaccompanied minors.
“The Biden administration said they’re just passing through to a bus,” Harshbarger said. “But we don’t know where the bus went. We don’t know how they got here, where they came from, who their sponsor was. … We want to know within 24 hours that it will be posted on a user-friendly website for you and me to see who got the contract, what the award was, who they are servicing, where they came from, where they are going and how much it costs.”
The bill requires that the DHS offer an online report including the total estimated dollar amount, whether DHS awarded the contract competitively, what company won the contract and where the work will be performed. The bill also says these updates are required no later than one business day after the contract is authorized or modified.
To check the bill’s progress, go to https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/4363.
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