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BLOG: Kenneth Bartley's school-shooting trial

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By Beth Braden

Feb. 28

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4 p.m.

 

After just two hours and 10 minutes of deliberation, a verdict was returned in Kenneth Bartley’s school shooting trial.

Bartley is guilty of reckless homicide, not guilty of the two counts of attempted first-degree murder, guilty of the drug charges and guilty of carrying a weapon on school grounds.

Jo Bruce, Ken Bruce’s widow, called the jury’s decision devastating and said the justice system failed.

“What a sad day this is for my husband who died of a direct shot to his back,” she said.

Bruce spoke on the courthouse steps on behalf of all three affected families.

“The message we sent today is our children don’t matter,” she said.

Greg Isaacs stood with Bartley’s parents and said the jury successfully considered the proof in the case.

“When we walked up the steps this morning, the possibilities were endless,” Isaacs said.

Following the verdict, the victims’ families and the Bartley family burst into tears and began filing out of the courtroom.

Bartley himself was speechless, Isaacs said.

“Kenny broke down and cried,” he said.

Jo Bruce stood in the background as Isaacs gave his statement.

The reckless homicide conviction is a class-D felony and could carry up to 12 years in prison. Because Bartley is a first-time offender, he could be eligible for a two- to four-year sentence. The drug charges are also class D felonies. Carrying a weapon on school grounds is a class-E felony.

It is possible that Bartley will not return to prison. That will be decided at a currently unscheduled sentencing hearing.

The time he has already served will count toward whatever sentence he receives.

The judge set his bond at $7,500. He will be released until his sentencing hearing.

He has been in custody since the day of the Nov. 8, 2005, shooting.

The jury is now deliberating the facts following closing arguments this morning. Both the defense and prosecutors spent nearly an hour each imploring the jury to return a favorable verdict.

Phillips-Jones says the state has done its due diligence in proving Bartley acted with premeditation when he killed Bruce and wounded Seale and Pierce.

Isaacs says the state hasn’t come close to proving first-degree murder and has asked the jury to consider reckless homicide.

Reckless homicide carries a sentence if 2 to 12 years in prison. First-degree murder, the charge Bartley was indicted for, carries a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 35 years, life without parole or even the death penalty. This case is not a death penalty case. 

The jury was instructed on how to apply the facts and evidence of the case to the law. They also have the ability to convict Bartley with second-degree murder if they wish.

Deliberations are expected to continue for several hours.

 

Noon

Closing arguments have concluded in the case and Judge Blackwood is giving the jury instructions on how to consider evidence and facts in order to render its verdict. Instructions will include further explanation of the charges for which Bartley was indicted. Defense attorney Isaacs asked the jury to consider reckless homicide in his closing argument.

 

Reckless homicide carries a sentence of two to 12 years in prison. First-degree murder — the charge Bartley was indicted for — carries a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 35 years, life without parole or even the death penalty. This case is not a death penalty case.

 

Feb. 27

 

 3 p.m.

Defense attorney Greg Isaacs has rested. Kenneth Bartley was his final witness.

The state called one rebuttal witness — Bill Crowley. He's the man Bartley was allegedly going to trade the gun to after school. Crowley said he had no plans to trade with Bartley and emphasized he never traded or sold any pills to kids. 

Court will reconvene  8:30 a.m. Friday — instead of the usual 9 a.m. — and the jury will hear closing arguments before beginning deliberations. 

It is unclear how long deliberations could take. 

1:38 p.m.

After hearing more than 2 hours of testimony from Bartley, the defense has rested.

1:15 p.m.
Kenneth Bartley has taken the stand in his own defense in his school-shooting trial. Currently, he is being cross-examined by District Attorney Lori Phillips-Jones. 

Bartley admits he took a loaded gun to school on Nov. 8, 2005, but said he never intended to hurt anybody.

"I had no ill will toward anybody in the room that day," Bartley testified.

The defense is expected to rest following Bartley's testimony. Each side will then offer closing statements and deliberation will begin.

Feb. 25

2:30 p.m.

Greg Isaacs is moving for a mistrial for the second time in the Kenneth Bartley trial. Assistant Principal Jim Pierce testified that he does not remember the statement he gave while in the hospital. Isaacs said the state had a duty to inform him of that before trial.

Blackwood has called a brief recess to consider the motion. 

Noon

Greg Isaacs attempted to poke holes in Gary Seale’s testimony for nearly an hour this morning.

Several times, Seale admitted he could not recall telling TBI Agent Steve Vinsant that he thought the tiny, .22-caliber Beretta was a squirt gun.

Vinsant interviewed Seale while he was still in the hospital at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.

More than once, Blackwood had to ask Seale to answer questions with “yes” or “no.” The first time Isaacs referred to Blackwood as 14 years old, Seale interjected.

“Kenny Bartley was 14 chronological, but 25 mentally!” Seale said.

The jury was instructed to ignore the statement.

Isaacs had wanted to play the audio of Vinsant’s interview with Seale, but gave up on the plan after Lori Phillip-Jones said the jury should also see the tape accompanying video footage.

The tape likely would have revealed Seale still in a hospital bed with various tubes and medical equipment present. The interview reportedly happened just after Seale was released from the intensive care unit, but was still in the hospital.

Seale maintains his memory of the incident is “very accurate” despite what the transcript says.

“You dream it, you eat it, you sleep it,” he said.

 Several TBI technicians also testified about the shell casings found in the office, as well as the weapon itself.

Their testimony has established that all shell casings found at the scene were fired from the .22 Beretta, and that while Bartley did not shoot Ken Bruce at point-blank range, he was within 2 to 3 feet of the assistant principal when he fired the weapon.

 

9:30 a.m.

Judge Blackwood did not allow the jury to hear Danny Sheckles' testimony about his repressed memory of statements Bartley reportedly said in the aftermath of the shooting. Sheckles did, however, testify about efforts made to save Bruce and get help for Pierce and Seale.

The decision was made in chambers just after 9 a.m.

The state is currently questioning Gary Seale. 

 

Feb. 24

6 p.m.

Court has recessed until 9 a.m. tomorrow morning following testimony by four additional witnesses. Testimony so far today has recalled the details from just before the Bartley was removed from class and into the midst of the chaos as first responders worked to save assistant principal Ken Bruce and render aid to assistant principal Jim Pierce and principal Gary Seale. Jurors were excused for the evening just before 4 p.m.

Tomorrow could prove to be tumultuous as Blackwood called a recess and said he would have to think about a last-minute motion to suppress testimony from EMA Director Danny Sheckles. Sheckles, who was a teacher at CCHS on Nov. 8, 2005, apparently told prosecutors two weeks ago he had a repressed memory about a statement Bartley reportedly made while he was being restrained by SRO Susan Phillips directly following the shooting. Isaacs made the motion to suppress the statement after the jury had been dismissed for the day.

A repressed memory cannot be allowed in court because they are "unreliable," Isaacs said.

"What prompted you two weeks ago to go to the DA's office," Blackwood asked Sheckles.

Sheckles said he had been subpoenaed and decided somebody needed to know what he remembered.

In the shooting's immediate aftermath, substitute teacher Johnny Thompson (who also served as an EMT and firefighter) testified he responded to the office to administer first aid. He also summoned Sheckles, who is trained as a paramedic. Another teacher, Bob Walden, came to the office. Walden told the court today he was a police officer in Lee County, Fla., before coming to Campbell County. At the time of the shooting, Walden was an auxilliary officer with the Campbell County Sheriff's Office. Walden ultimately secured the .22-caliber Beretta until law enforcement arrived at the scene.

When Walden said he had the gun secured, Sheckles now says Bartley said "Give me the gun and I'll finish what I started," to which Phillips allegedly replied "Shut the f--- up or I'll put your head through the floor."

The exchange is not documented in the statement Sheckles provided to law enforcement the day of the shooting. Phillips, who testified earlier today, never made mention of the statement. She says Bartley only said "What have I done?" as she held him down.

Sheckles testified today that he didn't even remember the exchange until well after Bartley took a plea in April 2007.

"If you believe Sheckles, then you have to believe Ms. Phillips committed perjury," Isaacs said.

Blackwood said he would issue a decision about Sheckles' statement in the morning.

"This case has been messed up since day No. 1," Blackwood said. "I'm gonna have to sleep on it."

Isaacs has asked for the case to be postponed if the judge allows Sheckles' testimony.

Court will reconvene at 9 a.m. tomorrow. The state is expected to call Gary Seale as its first witness after the Sheckles matter is taken care of.

2:30 p.m.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent Denise Morrissey Woodby has spent almost two hours testifying about the crime scene. The jury has seen video footage of the crime scene, as well as several color photos of it. Several shell casings and unspent bullets were located in the office while TBI agents processed the scene, but it is impossible to know if or how items at the scene were moved after paramedics and police  arrived to render aid.

Noon

Court has recessed for a one-hour lunch break following testimony from three witnesses called by the state. One witness, Trent McCullah, who was a senior on Nov. 8, 2005, testified about drug use before Bartley was summoned to the office. He said that Bartley had snorted a Xanax just moments before the school resource officer Susan Phillips came to get him out of class. Phillips was alerted to the gun after two other students saw it.

"He just showed me the imprint of it in his pants," McCullah told the court. He did not feel personally threatened.

Defense attorney Greg Isaacs is heavily emphasizing Bartley's age, and the fact that he was "cornered" by administrators.

"This is a situation that could have been easily contained," Isaacs said during his opening statement. "This situation could have been diffused if they'd followed policies and procedures."

Phillips, who was entering her third year of employment as an SRO, told the court on cross-examination she had no formal training about what should be done if she was ever confronted with an armed student situation, but that Bartley appeared calm during the several minutes he was in Pierce's office prior to the shooting.

"[Pierce] said bring [Bartley] to the office and they would search him," she said.

Phillips did not see the gun until after the shooting, she told the court.

The state will continue to call witnesses throughout the day. This story will be upset once court recesses for the night.

7 a.m.

Kenneth Bartley's murder trial will begin in just two hours at the courthouse in Jacksboro. Bartley stands accused of killing a school administrator and wounding two others at Campbell County High School on Nov. 8, 2005. The trial comes following an eight-year journey through the judicial system.

The jury consists of six men and six women selected from Hamilton County on Friday. Last November, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood decided the jury would come from out of town in order to ensure Bartley gets a fair trial.

This blog is maintained by reporter Beth Braden who is covering the trial for the Press. She can be reached at bbraden@lafollettepress.com or 562-8468 ext. 230.