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Appeals court denies new trial for Bartley

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By Susan Sharp

After years of legal wrangling, the fight might be over for Kenneth S. Bartley.

On Friday, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals denied Bartley’s request to set aside his 2007 guilty plea for the shooting at Campbell County High School. In April 2007, Bartley plead guilty to second degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder for the events that transpired on November 8, 2005.

It was on that day Bartley shot and killed Ken Bruce, an assistant principal at the school. Principal Gary Seale and another assistant, Jim Pierce, were also shot, court records state.

However, just weeks after he entered his guilty plea, Bartley began trying to retract it. This led to a hearing in Campbell County where the youth was denied a new trial.

Along the way, Bartley also changed lawyers. Dismissing local criminal defense attorney Michael Hatmaker, Knoxville based attorney Bruce Poston was Bartley’s choice for new representation.

It has now been nearly eight months, since Poston stood before the justices at the appeals court arguing Bartley didn’t understand the gravity of his plea when he entered it.

However, in the end Justice Jerry Smith spoke for the group saying it would not overrule the local court.

Instead Bartley’s plea would stand.

Poston had argued Bartley’s 2007 plea was flawed because there were no facts presented at the hearing to support the guilty plea, according to Smith’s opinion.

Bartley further didn’t “knowingly and voluntarily” enter into the plea either, Poston said.

He then deemed these factors resulted in a “manifest injustice” that could only be rectified with a withdrawal of Bartley’s plea.

In the appeals court’s opinion much of what Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood said at the hearing for a new trial was included.

At that July 2007 hearing, Blackwood said he believed Bartley knew what he was doing when he agreed to the plea. This was illustrated when the young man voiced an understanding of the time he would serve behind bars, the court record reflected.

As the appellate court reviewed Bartley’s court records it determined Blackwood’s decision on whether the plea was a voluntary and informed one was correct.

Taking into account Bartley’s intelligence, the amount of time he had already spent in court on the matter and testimony from others who saw the youth and Hatmaker conferring repeatedly, the justices said “the totality of the circumstances” suggested nothing otherwise, the opinion said.

In another prong of his argument, Poston argued that without someone presenting the court with details of the crime when the plea was entered, there was not a factual basis for the guilty plea.

On this Blackwood disagreed and the panel upheld his judgment.

State prosecutors agreed that no one stood up at the hearing and enumerated the facts in the matter. However, given the “numerous sources in the record” prosecutors also said that showed the facts in the case.

Along with that, Bartley was present the morning his trial was slated to begin and witnessed potential jurors being questioned. During those nearly four hours, both sides laid out their respective theories of the crimes in detail.  

The justices determined the local court had not abused its power in refusing Bartley’s request to set aside his plea.

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