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JUDGE: Bartley murder trial to stay put

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Outside jury will decide accused school shooter's fate

By Beth Braden

 JACKSBORO—A judge has ruled the Kenneth Bartley murder trial will take place in Jacksboro—the same town as the Campbell County High School shooting that killed Assistant Principal Ken Bruce and injured Principal Gary Seale and Assistant Principal Jim Pierce in 2005.  The jury will come from outside the county, the judge ordered. 

Last month, Bartley’s defense attorney Greg Isaacs asked a judge to move the trial citing “vitriolic” commentary and “undue excitement” as factors that would prevent Bartley from receiving a fair trial here.

On Monday, Isaacs submitted copies of online commentary as exhibits in court. The comments included statements calling Bartley a “little thug” and a “murderer.” Many commentators believe Bartley to be guilty. 

Bartley sat beside Isaacs wearing a maroon Knox County Detention Facility jumpsuit with orange prison-issue shoes. He now sports several tattoos and has grown a beard since his incarceration in a Tiptonville prison when he turned 18. 

“They have no shame and these are people that are potentially jurors in the case,” Isaacs argued in court on Monday morning, referring to publicized sentiments.

Eighth Judicial District Attorney Lori Phillips-Jones argued while there are a multitude of online comments about the case, the defense couldn’t tie those comments to prospective jurors.

“There’s no proof in the record that any of these comments were made by citizens of Campbell County,” she said. “I think your honor needs to look not at the worldwide attention, not at the statewide attention but at Campbell County because that’s where we’re asking the court to pick the jurors from.” 

Additionally, Phillips-Jones cited the LaFollette Press website as having no reader comments on articles regarding the Bartley case.  The only way to leave a comment at www.lafollettepress.com is to register an account. 

Coverage by the LaFollette Press was also presented in an affidavit Phillips-Jones submitted to the court. The affidavit, signed by Press Editor Brent Schanding, lists 14 articles published since 2009 available at the Press website.

None of the LaFollette Press articles are available online prior to 2009. 

Opinions from LaFollette Press Facebook fans were mostly against moving the trial.

“Don’t believe he should have been granted a new trial, much less a change of venue,” posted Linda Bishop Casey. 

Few commentators spoke of the need for a retrial. 

“The kid was railroaded into his plea. Do it right. Follow the law. If he’s found guilty by a jury, then so be it,” wrote Frank Strovel III on the Press’s Facebook page. 

“Even though I don’t think a retrial should have been granted it will be impossible.for.him to get a fair trial here,” wrote Amy Pennington Miller.

Knoxville-based Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood said it was time to “get the case over with,” calling it one of the most peculiar cases he’s every worked on. 

“I should have gone ahead and kept my word and said we’re gonna have a trial,” Blackwood said.  “I was convinced otherwise.”

The morning the trial was set to begin on April 10, 2007, Blackwood told the court he doesn’t accept trial-day pleas, according to court transcripts. Nevertheless, a plea was accepted when court broke for lunch that day. 

Blackwood eventually decided it would be in the best interest of the court to pull a jury from an outside county.

“Once this case is tried, it will not come back again on some procedural error,” he said. 

Phillips-Jones hopes the jury will be selected from within the eighth judicial district, which also includes Claiborne, Union, Fentress and Scott Counties, but Blackwood has the discretion to choose a jury from any of the state’s 95 counties. 

The trial is set to begin Feb. 24, 2014 at the Campbell County Courthouse.  Jury selection will likely take place the Thursday and Friday before the trial begins.