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Kingston attorney Chris Cawood could have a future as a spin doctor when he decides to call it quits on his legal career.
“Twenty-year veteran denied voting rights,” was the headline on a press release Cawood issued on Thursday regarding Richard Keith McCarroll.
“This is really a shame,” Cawood is quoted in the press release. “Here’s a person who served his country and us for 20 years to protect all of our rights, and now the local office won’t let him vote.”
While touting McCarroll’s military service, the press release failed to mention that he is also a convicted sex offender.
McCarroll, a former Harriman City Council member, was indicted in 2002 on 648 counts of aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor.
He cut a deal with prosecutors in 2007 and pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. The other charges were dismissed.
“When asked to give a statement concerning his involvement in the incident, the defendant gave the following statement: ‘In late summer 2001 I started to look at images of adolescent boys on the internet,’” McCarroll’s pre-sentence report said.
“‘I became infatuated by the image of nude boys. Viewing these images was like an addiction’” the report continued.
“‘I knew it was wrong, but at the time I felt like I was not hurting anyone.’”
McCarroll is now seeking to have his right to vote restored.
Cawood is accusing the Roane County Election Commission of denying him that right. He filed a petition against the commission in Roane County Chancery Court on Thursday.
“The law they are relying upon to deny my client his rights is clearly unconstitutional if it is applied to my client,” Cawood was quoted in the press release.
“It changes the penalty for an offense after the offense occurred. The law wasn’t passed until 2006, while the offense occurred in 2002.”
McCarroll, 57, filed a petition in Roane County Circuit Court to have his rights of citizenship restored.
The District Attorney General’s Office did not object.
“I see no reason to stand in the way of Mr. McCarroll’s petition, although I will not affirmatively endorse same,” District Attorney General Russell Johnson said in a letter to Cawood.
It’s not the first time Johnson has been asked his opinion on restoring voting rights to a former official convicted of a felony.
Thomas Austin, a former Roane County General Sessions judge who served time in a federal prison after pleading guilty to charges of extortion while on the bench, petitioned to restore his citizenship rights in 2010.
Johnson let it be known at the time that he planned to oppose Austin’s petition.
Austin’s petition was filed with Circuit Court Judge Russell E. Simmons Jr. According to court records, the petition is still open.
Simmons signed an order in June restoring McCarroll’s rights of citizenship.
“He served 20 years in the U.S. Army in and out of the United States,” the order said. “The petitioner had no prior offenses and has accrued no new offenses since his conviction. He has paid all fines and court costs.”
The order said McCarroll is allowed to vote, own firearms, run for office and serve on a jury.
Roane County Administrator of Elections Charles Holiway disputes Cawood’s claims that his office is denying McCarroll his right to vote.
“We’ll register anybody, but we have to follow the proper procedure for us,” Holiway said.
Holiway said his office has to send paperwork to the Tennessee Election Commission when a convicted felon applies to vote again.
Holiway said that was done in McCarroll’s
“They said he wasn’t allowed, because in July 2006, the state passed a law saying that anybody that is convicted of this particular felony is denied their right to vote for life,” Holiway said.
“Mr. Cawood is contending that since the felony occurred in 2002, that this law in 2006 does not apply, but Mr. McCarroll wasn’t convicted until 2007 after the law went into effect,” he added.
“Based on the fact that Russell Simmons granted him his right to vote, the state is saying no, that Mr. Simmons was in error.”
Holiway said the county election commission did what it was supposed to in McCarroll’s case.
“Until the state approves, we can’t reinstate him to vote,” Holiway said. “Once we send their paperwork, the state will send us a letter saying it’s OK to reinstate, so they have denied giving us a letter.
“Until we receive a letter, then the local commission can’t do anything. We can’t go above and beyond the state.”
The Tennessee Sexual Offender Registry lists McCarroll’s address as 114 Love Drive, Harriman.
According to his pre-sentence report, an undercover investigation was initiated after someone complained that McCarroll was involved in child pornography.
“The ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) used an online communication between one of their agents posing as a juvenile male and the defendant, and from that communication the defendant gave the juvenile male (actually an agent with ICAC) his phone number,” the report said.
McCarroll’s computer was seized after the TBI executed a search warrant at his home.
“After a thorough search of the defendant’s computer, the defendant was eventually arrested and charged with 648 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor,” the report said.
Three Republicans are on the five-member Roane County Election Commission.
Cawood, who in 2010 said he was proud to have an Obama sticker on his car, implies in the press release that Republicans have something to do with McCarroll’s situation.
“I know the Republicans have been trying to keep a lot of people from voting with the photo ID cards and such, but this is ridiculous,” the press release said.
“The voter ID law doesn’t have anything to do with this,” Holiway countered.