Jury will hear select jailhouse talks in murder for hire trial

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 12:13pm

The jury charged with deciding whether or not suspected serial killer Bruce Mendenhall attempted to arrange the deaths of witnesses and police detectives will hear relevant portions of wire-tapped jailhouse conversations, according to an order from the trial judge.

Judge Steve Dozier issued a decision Monday answering a defense request to suppress conversations police recorded between informer Roy McLaughlin and Mendenhall in which the latter allegedly asked McLaughlin to kill five individuals. Public Defender Dawn Deaner argued the conversations violated her client's constitutional right to counsel and right to avoid self-incrimination.

The defense motion is “granted in part and denied in part,” Dozier writes in his decision. The judge states portions of the conversations between Mendenhall and McLaughlin are admissible in which the two discuss the solicitation for murder, but that “statements concerning factual details of alleged homicides – particularly Ms. Hulbert's death – violate his right to counsel and should be suppressed.”

Citing case history, Dozier writes the wire-taps did not violate Mendenhall's right to counsel because “no criminal proceeding related to the alleged solicitation” had commenced at the time of the conversations.

The judge also says the conversations did not infringe upon the defendant's right to avoid self-incrimination because police “used a fellow inmate, serving as an informant, to elicit the inculpatory statements from the Defendant” and the comments were made not as “the result of police questioning, but in the context of a jailhouse discussion.”

Mendenhall's trial for the solicitation charges was scheduled to begin Monday but has been postponed. A new court date has yet to be scheduled.

1 Comment on this post:

By: not_guilty on 11/18/09 at 2:17

Sounds like another case where Judge Dozier fears acquittal more than reversal. The law in Tennessee has been clear on this issue since 1980, when the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the first degree murder conviction of Russell Keith Berry.

Perry March stands a good chance of reversal of his murder conviction for exactly this kind of refusal to follow the law. Perhaps that will hit Judge Dozier with the force of a clue by four.