The 10th Judicial District Attorney’s Office has asked for more time to respond to a motion seeking to disqualify the office from any involvement in a woman’s fight for a new trial after the district’s chief prosecutor was accused of wrongdoing.
Chattanooga attorney Bill Speek is seeking a new trial for his client, Miranda Cheatham, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the killing of her husband, James Cheatham, in 2016. She has maintained she was acting in self-defense.
The defense is accusing District Attorney General Steve Crump of withholding evidence in order to hide an alleged affair for which he was purportedly being blackmailed into securing Cheatham’s conviction.
Speek alleges multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct, including the suppression of a recording in which James Cheatham’s sister confesses to a prior affair with Crump and admits to threatening to “f——— his whole life up” by airing their alleged affair if “something didn’t happen soon.”
The recording was never produced at trial despite prosecutors having been made aware of it by the Cleveland Police Department.
“There are a litany of issues that are raised by the motion to disqualify. It’s not just simply one ground — it’s multiple,” assistant district attorney Paul Moyle said Friday morning. “That will take some time to investigate for us to develop any proof to rebut the assertions made by the defendant and also prepare an effective and thorough response.”
Judge Andrew Freiberg said the state would have until Sept. 1 to file its response. The hearing was originally set for mid-September but was moved to Oct. 9 because Crump was scheduled to be out of town on the original date.
Crump was not present for the hearing Friday morning.
Miranda Cheatham was present. She had been transported from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary, northeast of Memphis.
Her daughter whispered, “I love you,” as guards brought her mother out. With faces covered by masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two exchanged glances and waved at each other.
Freiberg was going to order that Miranda Cheatham stay in the Bradley County Jail until the original hearing date, but because it had to be rescheduled for October, Miranda Cheatham will be transported back to the state penitentiary, nearly five hours away, until Oct. 1. She will then stay in Bradley County until the hearing on Oct. 9.
On that date, the only issue that will be litigated is the defense’s motion to disqualify Crump’s office. The request for a new trial will be heard at a later date.
Crump has said that he is not backing down, as there “is not a basis in fact or law that would require the recusal of this office.”
Speek argues that a conflict does exists, and that Crump’s entire office has been affected by it.
As the chief prosecutor, Crump “oversees the activities of the entire office,” and “it would be difficult to eliminate his influence entirely,” Speek noted in the motion.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that a conflict of interest exists when an attorney cannot exercise his or her independent professional judgment free of “compromising interests and loyalties.”
Additionally, because the case has “appeared in news articles exposing D.A. Crump’s prosecutorial misconduct — and because the 10th Judicial District Attorney General’s Office may now have an opportunity to retry her case — it is highly improbable that [the] case has not been a subject of discussion within the office and highly improbable that D.A. Crump has shielded himself from such discussions,” Speek wrote in his motion.
As Miranda Cheatham was led out of the courtroom Friday morning, her daughter called out, “I love you!”
Contact Rosana Hughes at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.