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Archives 12-21-2005

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Colorful lights brighten Christmas season
Bonds set for Looper murder suspects
Investigation problem causes dismissals

 

 

Colorful lights brighten Christmas season

Dewain E. Peek/OCN staff
Bright, colorful lights such as this display at the Bowers home on Terrapin Ridge Road can be seen on various homes throughout Overton County this Christmas season.

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Bonds set for Looper murder suspects

By ROBERT FORSMAN, OCN court reporter
Bonds were set for two murder suspects last week in Overton County Criminal Court, Judge Leon Burns presiding.

A $500,000 bond was set for Harold Johnson Jr., and a $250,000 bond was set for Shane Michael Grogger.

Johnson and Grogger were indicted in October on two counts each of Premeditated First Degree Murder, Felony Murder, Especially Aggravated Robbery, and Abuse of a Corpse.

Johnson and Grogger, who have been in custody since their arrest, are charged with killing Johnson's daughter, Sandra Ann Johnson Looper, 42, and her husband L.J. Looper, 71, earlier this year.

According to the indictment, on or about April 1, Johnson and Grogger killed the couple with a gun in an attempt to perpetrate a robbery of the couple's money, vehicle, and other items, exceeding the value of $1,000.

Johnson and Grogger allegedly tried to hide the bodies in a trash pile, using heavy equipment.

The indictment charges that Johnson and Grogger physically mistreated the corpses of the couple.

The bodies were discovered April 2 at Johnson's Copeland Cove residence.

Johnson and Grogger allegedly fled the scene and were arrested in Putnam County the following day.

Both suspects had been held without bond since their arrest.

Both have been mentally evaluated and determined to be of sufficient capacity to go through the judicial process.

If convicted, both defendants could be sentenced from 25 years to life in prison to the death penalty.

Trial dates for the defendants are pending.

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Investigation problem causes dismissals

By MARY JO DENTON, Herald-Citizen staff
with permission Some said Christmas came early, and others said it was true justice. Either way, it was a rarity when state prosecutors went to Criminal Court in Overton County on Wednesday, Dec. 14 and dropped the charges against 26 persons who had been indicted on drug crimes last October.

They said they did so because they had no choice.

The 26 Overton Countians had been charged with various drug crimes after an undercover investigation by Overton County Sheriff's Department. The deputies who conducted that investigation used a confidential informant, sending that person to make drug buys from suspects.

But something went very wrong with the investigation apparently, prompting what amounted to an investigation into the investigation later on and resulting in last week's court action in which prosecutors stood up in court and dropped the charges.

Reportedly, some of the defendants arrested in the October drug bust had already confessed their guilt or were preparing to; however, the charges they faced are all being dropped due to some alleged irregularities in the undercover investigation that snared them.

Those close to the investigation of the investigation are not giving many details, noting that other matters involved in the original investigation are still being probed.

The official order filed in court, called an "order of nolle prosequi", says the decision to drop the charges is based on "the results of an investigation initiated by the Office of the District Attorney General that revealed facts unknown" prior to presentation of the cases to the Overton County Grand Jury.

Contacted by the Herald-Citizen, District Attorney Bill Gibson declined to give details of his investigation into the tactics used in the sheriff's drug bust last October.

But Gibson did say that after receiving the cases and presenting them to the Overton County Grand Jury, prosecutors learned of some "disturbing" facts, which caused them to conduct their own investigation of the drug investigation.

"We had reason eventually to question some of the information in these cases, and we looked beneath the allegations," Gibson said. "We found some of the information given to us was not credible."

He acknowledged that TBI agents and FBI agents helped the DA's staff "look beneath the allegations".

State prosecutors have a duty to pursue only those cases that are based on solid and credible evidence, Gibson said.

"Some facts came to light after these indictments were returned which caused me to question the credibility of some of the information," he said.

"A prosecutor's job description is to pursue justice, and justice means doing what's right, even if sometimes that requires dropping a charge."

He declined to give any details about the information that derailed the prosecutions of 26 persons accused of illegal drug activity.

Assistant DA Owen Burnett, one of the prosecutors who works Overton County cases, told the Herald-Citizen it would be improper to comment in detail on what went wrong with the drug investigation.

But he did say that finding it necessary to drop the charges due to irregularities made it very awkward for prosecutors, who are accustomed to pursuing cases vigorously.

"It's really a very uncomfortable situation," Burnett said.

He also said, "I appreciate the work of the FBI and the TBI. Their assistance in this situation was very helpful."

It has long been the practice of law enforcement to use "confidential informants" to gather evidence of crimes. Those informants are instructed to gain social contact with suspects for the purpose of nailing down proof of wrongdoing, often by video or audio recording of incriminating activities.

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Overton County News
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Livingston, Tennessee 38570
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