A woman convicted in the stabbing death of an MTSU basketball player is seeking an appeal before the Tennessee Supreme Court, claiming she received an unfair trial.
Joe Brandon, the attorney for Shanterrica Madden, filed an application and brief Friday asking the court to hear the matter after the Tennessee Court of Appeals turned down the appeal. He contends that former Circuit Court Judge Don Ash was partial to the prosecution and should have recused himself from the trial because of connections to MTSU and the Lady Raiders basketball program.
Brandon also claims Ash mishandled the trial, in part, by allowing jury members to ask written questions, without anonymity, as the case was being heard.
“When will this Court call such ‘deviations’ plain error and award a new trial. In the case at hand, jurors were passing notes throughout the jury box during the middle of testimony of one of the witnesses,” Brandon’s application states.
Madden, of Memphis, was convicted of second-degree murder and tampering with evidence in the March 2011 stabbing death of her roommate, Lady Raiders basketball player Tina Stewart.
Early in the trial, Brandon asked that Ash step away from the case because he was Facebook friends with MTSU coaches and officials and a Blue Raiders Athletic Association fundraiser, as well as members of District Attorney Bill Whitesell’s staff. Ash declined.
In his filing, Brandon asks the Supreme Court how much involvement it will allow judges to have with litigants, lawyers, witnesses and jurors through social media. The application also points out that the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals stated that someday Tennessee might follow the lead of Maryland, which says all judges must accept restrictions on online conduct and that the state prohibits friending of witnesses and attorneys.
Brandon also points out the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals encouraged the Supreme Court to accept Madden’s application to be heard.
The attorney contends trial transcripts show prejudice and “obvious bias” on the part of Ash. The transcript states:
“The Court (Ash): Really? On a recusal you couldn’t subpoena my records or stuff like that?
“Mr. Brandon: Well, it appeared that you were mad at me for filing the Facebook stuff. You sent me an order that I had invaded your privacy and I created a security risk.
“The Court (Ash): I think you have.
“Mr. Brandon: And I didn’t do anything but go into the public page.
“The Court (Ash): Well, I’ll check on that. So you’re saying that my Facebook page is public and that you didn’t use any – you just can click on it and go straight to it?
“Mr. Brandon: Absolutely. Anybody that’s got a Facebook account can type Don Ash in and your page comes up.”
The transcript also shows Brandon’s suspicion that Ash sealed a court motion he made then removed MTSU and district attorney connections from his Facebook page.
In the transcript, Ash tells Brandon he’s broken no Tennessee law in regard to activity on his Facebook page and says he didn’t think his Facebook page was public.
“But when I was looking at it I thought you know what, if Mr. Brandon doesn’t like Mr. (Rick) Insell (women’s basketball coach) to be one of my 1,500 friends, he’s probably not going to like that – just not the district attorney general’s office, some of them, but also trial lawyers.”
Ash explains it took him two days to clear his Facebook page of any potential conflicts but that he eventually decided some of the items on Facebook show that he and the others on their have lives outside of the courtroom.