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Judge splits double-murder trials; Leon Houston to be tried first

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

rclawrence@bellsouth.net

Two close-knit brothers accused of killing a sheriff’s deputy and his friend won’t be going to trial together.

Judge James “Buddy” Scott determined there was validity in a prosecution motion to have separate trials for Rocky and Leon Houston.

After hearing arguments from both sides in Roane County Criminal Court on Friday, Scott ruled the brothers will be tried separately.

“I believe the state’s motion is well taken,” Scott said.

Leon will face a jury first.

His trial is tentatively set to start on July 14.

There was no date set for Rocky’s trial, but it likely won’t happen until November at the earliest because of the court session cycle.

The brothers are each facing two counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony murder in the deaths of Roane County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Jones and his friend, Mike Brown, on May 11, 2006.

Brown was out on a ride-along with Jones when they were shot to death South of the River outside of Leon’s home.

Supporters of both sides were in the courtroom in the case that has polarized the community.

“I think it would be better if they went to trial together,” said Clyde Houston, Rocky and Leon’s father.

Rocky and Leon were taken back to jail following the hearing.

Their father said he didn’t get a chance to talk to his sons to see how they felt about Scott’s ruling, but if an early recess was any indication, the brothers appeared to be vehemently against it.

Loud talking and shouting could be heard coming from the courtroom’s holding area during a conference between the brothers and their attorneys.

“We will not be waiving our rights,” Leon shouted.

Special prosecutor Robert “Gus” Radford filed his motion on May 22 to have separate trials.

Scott said there is no case law in Tennessee that specifically addresses the issues that Radford cited in his motion.

However, there are some Supreme Court cases that do address the matter.

Before making his ruling, Scott took a recess to review those cases in chambers.

After doing so, Scott announced his decision.

“I’m of the opinion that the state’s motion for a separate trial for these two defendants is well taken,” Scott said.

Defense attorneys Randy Rogers and James Logan stated their reasons why the brothers should be tried together.

In the end, though, their arguments could not persuade the judge to rule in their favor.

Scott said he has a responsibility to ensure both defendants have a fair trial.

While behaving himself during the hearing on Friday, Rocky on many occasions has made loud outbursts during court proceedings.

Those actions in front of a jury in a joint trial could reflect poorly on Leon, Scott said.

Leon’s trial will be highly publicized.

Rogers, Rocky’s attorney, argued that in a county the size of Roane, it will be nearly impossible to find two fair and impartial juries.

The jury in the second trial could be prejudiced by the news coverage from the first trial, Rogers argued.

Scott said he doesn’t plan to use the same pool of jury candidates for both trials.

Scott also asked court clerk Angela Randolph to check on courtroom availability for the fall session of Roane County Criminal Court, which starts in November.

That’s when Rocky could go to trial.