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After hearing Leon Houston’s seething, expletive- and threat-riddled 15-minute phone call, a mostly female jury in Houston’s latest trial shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
Perhaps that’s why, the next day, it took them less than two hours to find Houston guilty.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Jennings told jurors Monday the case was over threats made by Houston to kill his former attorney James F. Logan.
Houston’s rage is “so out there,” Jennings said, “at times he’s hardly able to breathe.”
“To say it set him off is just the understatement of the day,” the prosecutor said.
Houston’s rhetoric is venomous in the recording.
“I’ll kill that (expletive) when I get out,” he told his girlfriend, Pat Honeycutt.
“I ain’t kidding … The only thing he’s going to get from and that’s a (expletive) bullet.
“Any of my people has got my permission to kill that (expletive),” Houston said.
“I’ll cacth that (expletive) out and put a round in his (expletive).”
He got so worked up during the call that more than once he was reduced to panting.
Honeycutt, on the phone in Roane County, begged him to calm down.
Houston placed the call on Feb. 10 from the Blount County jail not long after he learned that Logan had been on the Houston family farm.
Logan represented Houston in his murder trial after he and his brother, Rocky, were accused of killing Roane County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Jones and his ride-along partner, Mike Brown, on May 11, 2006, on the rural road in front of the family farmhouse.
Leon was tried twice by a jury and eventually found not guilty.
Rocky was set free through a judge’s mistake.
Parts of the Houston family farm were put up to pay for Leon’s defense costs, but Houston contends Logan doesn’t deserve payment.
“That (expletive) never represented me, not for one damn minute,” he said in the phone call.
He also continued to rage about more recent charges.
“I ain’t no convicted felon,” Houston shouted. “I’m going to have my guns and that (expletive) don’t want to be on my damn property.”
Although Houston acted as his own attorney, he did not take the stand.
His attempts to make his case didn’t get far with Jennings and U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves of Kentucky, who was presiding over the case in a Knoxville courtroom.
Houston wanted to bring up details of past cases and run-ins with the law, but Jennings often objected, and the soft-spoken Reeves generally sustained the objections.
Houston frequently stood before the jury in frustration, clearing his throat and sorting through papers as he decided his next move.
He asked for a mistrial early on, claiming, in part, he was not allowed to present an effective defense.
Houston said he was not permitted “to show what led up to the defendant’s state of mind, and the conditions he was held under.”
“Mama said there’d be days like this,” he said in his opening statement. “There’s more to this case than meets the eye.
“Everybody has a point at which they break,” Houston continued. “These people that’s involved in this case — they know how to break you.”
Logan, Houston’s former lawyer, took the stand twice — once without the jury present.
Each time, after his testimony, he walked grimly past Houston with his lips tightened, both men glancing back and forth at each other.
Before adjorning for the day late Monday afternoon, Reeves asked Houston if he wanted to call any witnesses.
“Give me a second,” Houston said, pausing briefly. “No, thank you.”
Reeves said the jury must determine three things jury to find Houston guilty, according to the federal law he is charged with.
One is that he used interstate commerce to make a threat.
Although Houston’s call from a nearby jail to his Roane County girlfriend seemed on its face to be an all-in-Tennessee connection, the jail inmate phone service was routed through a Louisiana company which checks to make sure the inmate has funds set aside for the call.
Jennings said that routing was sufficient to make the call interstate commerce and valid for the federal charge.
The second was that the threat was real, not made in passing.
The third was that threat involved physical harm.
Houston tried to make a case that the law requires him to “knowingly” transmit across state lines.
However, Reeves contended that the word “knowingly,” which is used in the language of the offense, modifies making the threat, not the transmission.
When the jury sent back two questions relating to that language, the judge told them the question was improper and to proceed with their deliberations.
Houston nodded when Reeves read the “guilty” verdict around 12:30.
When asked if he wanted to poll the jury, Houston declined.
“I’ll take them at their word,” he said.
Reeves set a sentencing date of March 4 at 1 p.m.
Houston again made a plea for a mistrial, this time adding that he was denied counsel.
Houston was given option of an attorney, but was told if he defended himself, he was on his own, Reeves said.
About two weeks before, Houston had successfully defended himself on federal weapons charges while acting as his own attorney.
In Jennings’ closing arguments, he quoted part of Honeycutt’s conversation to Houston.
“Truer words were never spoken by Pat Honeycutt,” the prosecutor said. “‘They’re going to play every bit of this back to you.’ And we did.”
Honeycutt sat in the front row of the audience behind Houston.
She watched as Houston put his hands behind his back.
“Praise the Lord,” he said as the cuffs were snapped closed.
Then he looked at Honeycutt.
“I love you, Pat,” he said gently.
“I love you, too, Leo,” she responded.