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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Rocky Houston’s Maadi rifle was fired 22 times during the 2006 shootout that took the lives of Roane County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Jones and his ride-along friend Mike Brown.
During Thursday’s opening statements in Leon Houston’s murder trial, special prosecutor Kenneth Irvine suggested for the first time that it may not have been Rocky who was doing all the firing with the rifle.
Irvine told jurors that after Jones was slumped over dead in his patrol car, one of the brothers walked around the back of the car and shot Brown twice in the head as he laid paralyzed on the ground.
“I can’t tell you if it’s still Rocky Houston with the rifle or if it’s Clifford Leon Houston with the rifle now,” Irvine said.
Defense attorney James Logan told jurors that there will not be a shred of evidence introduced during the trial that puts the Maadi in Leon’s hands during the shootout.
The suggestion that Leon could have fired the shots that killed Brown was one of many things Logan sought to counter in his opening statement to the jury.
“Leon Houston is not guilty of the murders of William Birl Jones or Mr. Brown,” Logan said.
Leon faces two counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony murder for the deaths of Jones and Brown.
His trial in July 2008 on the same charges ended with a hung jury.
Twelve jurors and three alternates were selected to hear the case. The group consists of eight women and seven men. Before opening statements began, Special Judge David Hayes gave the jurors a lengthy orientation about the task ahead of them.
“Keep an open mind when you go into this trial,” Hayes said.
The shooting occurred outside of Leon’s home on Barnard Narrows Road.
Rocky and Leon have long claimed that they acted in self-defense after Jones and Brown pulled up to the house shooting.
Irvine told jurors that’s not what the evidence will show.
“I don’t think there will be anyone to testify that there’s any firing before Rocky comes off the porch headed towards that cruiser with a rifle, pointed at the cruiser,” Irvine said. “There will be a dispute of who fires first. We’ll ask you to resolve that.”
Irvine told the jurors to pay close attention to the ballistics evidence that will be introduced in the trial.
“We think it will show that (Jones and Brown) were caught by surprise,” he said.
Logan said the facts in the case will not support the state’s theory.
Logan said Leon was at his home engaged in fellowship among friends when the shootout suddenly erupted.
“The facts that are undisputed cry loudly for a verdict of not guilty,” Logan said. “Those undisputed facts are told by the state of Tennessee to you and they form the bases of what happened. On May 11, 2006, a lovely spring day, Clifford Leon Houston is at home. He’s not gone somewhere to participate in any harm against anyone.”
Jones, Brown and both Houston brothers fired weapons in the shootout.Irvine said the eight shots that Leon fired from his Glock pistol prevented Jones and Brown from getting out of their patrol car.
“He fires them from quite a distance with a pistol, but every single shot hits that car,” Irvine said. “What’s significant about what he’s doing is he’s keeping the passenger inside the car. The passenger can’t get out. They’re caught in a crossfire.”
Logan said Leon did not have a gun pulled when the shooting started. Logan said Leon fired amid the chaos to try and protect himself and his brother, who was wounded during the shooting.
“Clifford Leon Houston is sitting on his porch, bothering not a soul in the world,” Logan said. “He runs from the shooting. His brother is involved in a gun battle, and he does fire eight shots from different
locations as he’s scooting on the ground hiding, trying to avoid being shot.”
Nine witnesses testified on Thursday. Melissa Heidinger, a deputy with the sheriff's office at the time of the shooting, testified that Jones told her Rocky and Leon had driven by his house on May 11, 2006. That differed a bit from what she testified to in the past.
“In your previous testimony you testified that he said that he had seen Rocky Houston,” Logan said. “Do you now recall it as being both or was it just that he saw Rocky?”
“I don't recall,” Heidinger said. “I know he told me he saw a vehicle go by that looked like Rocky's.”
“That's my point,” Logan responded. “Do you know why you would have said Rocky and Leon in your direct testimony to Mr. Irvine when you now know what he said?”
Heidinger said she couldn't say for sure because the conversation happened more than three years ago.
“So you may not have even heard him say it,” Logan said.
“He did,” Heidinger responded. “He sat there in the sheriff's office, in the front office, and he said it.”
As a result of seeing Rocky or a vehicle that appeared to be his, Heidinger testified that Jones told her that he went in his house and got a shotgun.
“It was obvious that he had on his mind Rocky Joe Houston wasn't it?” Logan asked.
“I'm sure he did,” Heidinger responded.
Irvine said Jones went to Leon's house to arrest Rocky on an outstanding capias. The capias was issued in October 2005. Heidinger testified that former sheriff David Haggard told her that it was not to be served at Rocky's house.
Sheriff's Deputy Guy McGuckin said he was on the way to his mother's house when he saw Rocky at Leon's house. McGuckin, who was off duty at the time, said he told Jones about Rocky's whereabouts when he ran into Jones a short time later.
“He said they'd go down there and talk to them,” McGuckin said.
That was the last time he saw Jones alive.
Logan was interested in the conversation that McGuckin had with TBI agent Brad Nealon after the shooting.
“You told Mr. Nealon that you had told Jones to get and arrest the SOB,” Logan said, “and you used the words.”
“Yup,” McGuckin responded, “and after May 11, that's what he (Rocky) was to me.”
Rocky was tried for the murders in December 2008. The jury found him not guilty of first-degree murder in Brown's death. They also found him not guilty on several lesser charges, but former Houston Judge James “Buddy” Scott ruled the verdicts on the lesser charges did not count.
Rocky's case is now stayed pending a decision from the Court of Criminal Appeals.