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Another trial set in Houston case

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

dlawrence@roanecounty.com

Rocky and Leon Houston took the main entrance into the courthouse on Thursday.

The brothers were released on bond last week.

Gone are the shackles and handcuffs and having to be shuffled in through a side entrance flanked by officers.

Their newfound freedom apparently didn’t sit well with a family member of one of the men the brothers are accused of killing.

“Coward. Murderer,” said Rose Jones, the sister of slain Deputy Bill Jones, as Rocky walked past her on his way to the courtroom.

Special Judge David Hayes called Thursday’s hearing to get an update on the case.

Hayes was appointed to oversee the case last month after former Houston judge James “Buddy” Scott abruptly stepped down.

“I’ve read some, I’m going to guess, 200 motions or so that have been filed in this case, which took me about four hours just to go through the motions,” Hayes said. “I have reviewed those so I have some fundamental grasp of some of the issues.”

The brothers are accused of gunning down Jones, a Roane County deputy, and his ride-along passenger Mike Brown.

Jones and Brown, a former lawman himself, died in a shootout outside Leon’s Barnard Narrows Road home on May 11, 2006.

The state claims the men were killed in cold blood after Jones showed up to arrest Rocky on an outstanding warrant.

The Houstons claim they acted in self defense.

“They were shooting before the car ever stopped,” Rocky said. “It was a hit.”

Rocky and Leon have already been tried separately for the crimes. A mistrial was declared each time.

One of the issues is whether retrying Rocky constitutes double jeopardy.

The jury returned eight not-guilty verdicts when he was tried in December.

Scott ruled the only verdict that counted was the not-guilty verdict returned for the first-degree premeditated murder of Brown.

The other not-guilty verdicts, Scott declared, were null and void because the jury didn’t follow proper instructions.

Randy Rogers, Rocky’s attorney, is appealing that decision.

The Court of Criminal Appeals has found enough merit in Rogers’ argument to look into the matter. Hayes was notified about the decision during the hearing.

“What the Court of Criminal Appeals has done with regard to Rocky Joe Houston’s case, is granted the application,” Hayes said. “That doesn’t mean that they have granted any relief or denied any relief.”

Hayes said it typically takes the appeals court six months to a year to make a ruling once it has decided to look into a case.

Until the matter is settled, Hayes said Rocky’s case won’t move forward.  

“That case is effectively suspended until that time because I have no jurisdiction to proceed,” Hayes said.    

Hayes said he plans to move forward with a second trial in Leon’s case unless the Court of Criminal Appeals gives him a reason not to.

“It’s your hope that he will be in the same position as Rocky Joe Houston’s, and that’s up to the Court of Criminal Appeals,” Hayes told Leon’s attorney James Logan.

Hayes set Aug. 10 as a tentative trial date for Leon.

While out on bond, the Houstons are required to wear ankle bracelets, electronic devices to keep track of their whereabouts.

The brothers have to pay for the service, which their lawyers contend is a financial hardship.

Rogers said he plans to file a motion asking Hayes to modify the conditions of release.  

In the past, the Houstons have claimed they are the victims of a vast conspiracy that stretches from Kingston to Nashville to Washington.

Hayes said they won’t get any help from him should they try to subpoena high-ranking officials such as the governor and the president.

“Most federal offices are exempt,” Hayes said. “Most state offices are exempt. They’ll quash those subpoenas.”