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By TERRI LIKENS
With a new prosecutor on board and Rocky Houston’s double-murder trial just a month off, Judge James “Buddy” Scott had plenty of issues to juggle at a hearing Friday.
Looming large among them was a defendant that Scott said has “conduct” issues.
Both Rocky and his brother, Leon, appeared in Roane County Circuit Court as Scott relieved former special prosecutor Robert “Gus” Radford of West Tennessee from the case.
He approved Kenneth Irvine of Knoxville to replace him. The brothers are charged in the May 2006 slayings of Roane County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Jones and his friend, former police officer Mike Brown, who was with Jones as a ride-along.
“Getting back and forth here is quite a problem,” said Radford, who had asked to be removed from the case, citing travel problems and his health.
“I know it was quite a test every time you came here,” Scott concurred.
New prosecutor Irvine said he already had read most of the transcripts from Leon’s trial this summer, which ended in a hung jury and was declared a mistrial.
“I’ll be ready on Nov. 10 for trial,” he told Scott.
Rocky, however, requested through his lawyer, Randy Rogers, that since Leon is to be retried, that he wished to be tried in combination with his brother.
Rogers noted that it was Radford who requested the brothers be tried separately.
Leon’s attorney, Jim Logan, said he had not discussed a possible consolidation of the trials with his client. Without elaborating, he also indicated that he may not represent Leon in the future.
Leon’s retrial has been scheduled for March.
Scott scheduled a hearing on Oct. 17 to further discuss issues involving both brothers.
On Friday, he also shed light into his decision-making process, saying he would take no action that would jeopardize a fair trial.
“That’s what I’m going to be using as my guiding light,” he emphasized. “Fair trial.”
Irvine raised the issue of an incomplete mental health report on Rocky. Rogers said Rocky has an appointment with a mental health expert next week, but added he isn’t confident his client planned to cooperate.
Rocky leaned in and muttered to Rogers.
“I’ve been directed by my client that he will not cooperate,” Rogers told the judge.
Rogers maintained that they will not be seeking an insanity defense. Instead, they plan to make the case about self defense.
Witnesses in Leon’s trial said Brown fired first as he and Jones cruised near Leon’s house.
Leon, wearing a black-and gray-striped Loudon County jail jumpsuit, sat quietly and was dismissed early in the hearing.
Rocky, wearing a gold Hamilton County Jail jumpsuit, was more animated throughout the hearing.
Rogers apologized to Scott Friday when he said Rocky had asked him to repeat his longstanding request to represent himself in the trial.
As Scott tried to respond, Rocky stood and continued to talk to Rogers.
That prompted a scolding from the judge.
“Sit down,” Scott said. “I’m trying to talk to your attorney.”
Rocky paused and lowered himself back into his seat.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen, in my experience, anyone who is more difficult to control,” Scott said to Rogers. “For him to represent himself would be hazardous.”
“He sat down today,” Scott added. “But there are times his chemistry just overwhelms him.”
Scott also seemed unlikely to grant Rocky’s request to sequester, or separate from the public, jurors during his trial.
The judge noted that jurors were not sequestered in Leon’s trial, and no problems arose from the situation.
“I believe it has been proved unnecessary,” Scott said.
Although he had been accused of spitting on officers earlier in the year, he was not wearing a spit hood that had been required for some court appearances.
According to Roane County Chief Deputy Sheriff Tim Phillips, Rocky spat on Phillips and Kingston Assistant Police Chief Wes Stooksbury Friday after the hearing.
Phillips said Hamilton County apparently did not have any spit hoods available.