Murder trial starts today

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By The Staff



Some moments create everlasting memories.

Kingston police Lt. Gary Nelson had one a little over two years ago. He was one of the first officers to see the deceased bodies of a sheriff’s deputy and his civilian partner.

“Me and two other officers were the first three on the scene,” Nelson said.

“I’ll never forget that day.”

That day will be relived over and over in a Roane County Criminal Courtroom for the next few weeks.

Leon Houston is set to stand trial starting today, Monday, in the shooting deaths of Bill Jones and Mike Brown.

Jones was a deputy with the Roane County Sheriff’s Office. His good buddy Brown was with him on a ride-along when they were shot to death South of the River outside Leon’s home on Barnard Narrows Road.

Leon and his brother Rocky are each charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony murder in the deaths of the two men.

Rocky’s trial isn’t scheduled to start until November.

What exactly happened that fatal day has been the topic of much discussion and speculation in the community.

The state alleges the killings were premeditated, that Jones and Brown got bush-whacked with automatic weapons because Jones was trying to serve a warrant on the brothers.

The other side has a different theory. They say the brothers were put in a kill-or-be-killed situation and acted in self defense.

Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood offered his take on the case during a preliminary hearing last August. He called the state’s case weak and said the evidence suggest mutual combat and not premeditated murder.

The deceased men and the brothers all fired shots that day.

All the speculation sparks a question that could be key during the trial. Should Jones be given the benefit of the doubt because he was a law enforcement officer?

“That’s a good question,” said Nelson, who once worked with Jones on the Harriman police force. “That was his area of patrol, so he had a logical reason to be down in that area.”

Houston supporters — and there are many — claim Jones and Brown were looking for a confrontation with the brothers, but those in the law enforcement business will tell you that getting in a gun battle is the last thing an officer wants to do.

“It’s not like on television where you shoot somebody and then go to the bar with your buddies afterward,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“You shoot somebody and it has a lasting traumatic effect on an individual police officer, so it’s not something police officers are looking to do.”

Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton said he believes most officers in Roane County share the FOP’s attitude when it comes to discharging a weapon in the line of duty.

“You hope to end your career with never having to pull your weapon,” said Stockton, who also worked with Jones years ago in Harriman. “That’s the way I look at it, and I think most of them do.”

The defense may try to show that Jones didn’t live by that creed. During the preliminary hearing, Rocky’s attorney Randy Rogers tried to portray Jones as a trigger-happy cop who earned the nickname “Bam Bam” because he was involved in a shooting on more than one occasion.

It’s not clear what strategy James Logan, Leon’s lead attorney, will employ during the trial. He did put the court on notice in April that he planned to use the defense of self defense.

For the family members of officers who have been killed in the line of duty, listening to a defendant’s legal team make the case for an acquittal can be difficult.

Norman Jenks is the father of slain Tennessee State Trooper Calvin Jenks, who was killed in January 2007 while conducting a traffic stop in Tipton County.

Next to losing his son, Jenks said sitting through the trials of the two men who killed his son was probably the hardest thing he’s had to do in his life.

“My heartfelt prayers are with the family, because it’s the hardest thing that they’re ever going to have to go through,” said Jenks, voice still ripe with grief from his son’s murder.

“I’ve been there, and I’m still there,” he added. “My family still hasn’t put it to bed.”

Nelson said the trial could be an emotional time for members of the law-enforcement community as well. Jones was well known amongst his peers. He served as the training officer for both Nelson and Stockton.

“We still have to use our level of professionalism, but it’s definitely going to be emotional for us because it was a very dear friend of ours that was killed,” Nelson said.