Smoot denied new trial

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By Damon Lawrence

Defense attorney Bob Jolley cited more than a dozen reasons why convicted murderer Shawn Smoot deserved a new trial.


Criminal Court Judge Jeff Wicks wasn’t persuaded by any of them. He denied the motion on Monday.

“The court has examined those and finds that they do not rise to the level necessary to grant the defendant any relief in this matter,” Wicks ruled. “Therefore, the court hereby denies the defendant’s motion for a new trial.”

Smoot, a former insurance agent, still has a number of appellate routes he can take to try and get his first-degree murder conviction overturned.

Last August, a Roane County jury found Smoot guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Brooke Nicole Morris. The jury sentenced Smoot, 44, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Assistant District Attorney General Bob Edwards said he was surprised Monday when Wicks announced his ruling from the bench. Edwards said he thought Wicks would take the matter under advisement and issue his ruling at a later date.

“He ruled from the bench, so it’s done,” Edwards said. “Now the appeals process can start, so Shawn Smoot goes to serve his prison sentence and he’s out of our hands for a while, which is perfect as far as I’m concerned. That’s exactly what we hoped for.”

This week hasn’t gone well for Smoot. Morris’ mother, Tina Gregg, sued him in Knox County Circuit Court over her daughter’s death. On Tuesday, Gregg was awarded a $7 million judgment against Smoot, who represented himself in the civil case.

Morris and Smoot were residents of Knox County. She worked for Smoot at his Allstate Insurance Office in Knoxville, and the two were romantically involved. Prosecutors said Smoot was jealous and obsessed with Morris. They said he also held a grudge against Morris because on Jan. 4, 2011, she told his wife, Knoxville pediatrician Michelle Hall, that they were having an affair. Hall separated from Smoot the next day and they divorced a few months later.

Morris was 23 when she died. Prosecutors said Smoot shot her three times at the intersection of Blair Road and Old Blair Road in Roane County on Oct. 15, 2011. The final shot was execution style to the back of the head.

During closing arguments at the trial, Edwards showed the jurors a picture of Morris’ dead body at the intersection. He then turned and held the picture up in front of Smoot, who was seated at the defense table.

“That, Mr. Smoot, is proof, and he won’t look at it,” Edwards said.

The comment upset Jolley, and on Monday he argued that was one of the reasons why Smoot deserves a new trial.

“Mr. Edwards was able to put in evidence by confronting my client in the courtroom with material when my client had not taken the stand,” Jolley said. “We feel that is improper argument and should be a basis for the granting of a new trial.”

Edwards said he doesn’t think there was anything improper about what he did.

“He (Jolley) raised that issue at trial and the judge had already ruled that was not improper and that it was not an improper comment on the defendant’s right to remain silent,” Edwards said.

Jolley also argued for a new trial because he said the state was allowed to present evidence at trial that should have been suppressed because it was obtained through a faulty search warrant. Assistant District Attorney General Tiffany Smith countered the evidence would have been found through inevitable discovery.

“Brett Melacarro, who was a co-tenant signed on the lease with Mr. Smoot at that town home, took the witness stand and testified that had he been asked that day, he would have allowed law enforcement to search the common areas of that town home,” Smith said. “He wasn’t asked that day because law enforcement officers thought they had a valid warrant.”

A Kel-Tec P-32 pistol is the weapon that Smoot reportedly used to kill Morris. During the search of the common areas of the town home, police found a box for a Kel-Tec P-32, a box of ammunition, and an unfired bullet.

“The state relied upon the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals case – State of Tennessee versus Lemaricus Davidson – for the basis of how the inevitable discovery argument could work,” Smith said. “Here, we argued that this evidence would have been inevitably discovered through a consensual search by a co-tenant in a common area of the town home. There was evidence that was found in Mr. Smoot’s bedroom upstairs. The state never argued it should be admissible.”

Davidson was sentenced to death for killing a Knox County couple in 2007. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined the inevitable discovery doctrine made evidence obtained during a search of his home permissible, even though the affidavit in support of the warrant was unsigned. Davidson’s conviction and death sentence was recently upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Jolley argued the inevitable discovery doctrine doesn’t apply in the Smoot case.

“We submit that the items seized out of Mr. Smoot’s house were seized unconstitutionally,” he said. “We submit that they should not have been introduced into evidence in this case, and that we should receive a new trial because they were.”

That’s an argument Jolley will have to take to the Court of Criminal Appeals now after Wicks denied the motion for a new trial on Monday.

“It’s probably the most interesting issue of all of them, and I think it’s only fair that Mr. Smoot has the chance to ask the court to review it,” Edwards said.

In August 2015, then criminal court judge E. Eugene Eblen ruled the warrant was deficient and suppressed the evidence police obtained during the search of Smoot’s home. However, before retiring from the bench in December of that year, Eblen allowed the evidence to come in through inevitable discovery.

“The court rules in favor of the state in allowing the evidence found on the first floor of the defendant’s residence to be admissible at trial by inevitable discovery,” Eblen said in his order.

Wicks kept Eblen’s order in place when he took over the case.

“I think Judge Eblen and Judge Wicks did a really good job, and they got everything right,” Edwards said.

Smoot is serving his life sentence at the Turney Center Industrial Complex in Only.

Wicks allowed Jolley to stay on as Smoot’s attorney to handle his appeals, which could go on for years.