Some of biggest court cases of the past few years – the Shanterrica Madden murder trial, Islamic Center of Murfreesboro and battle over a digital sign – came to a close, although the ICM case is moving through the appeals process.
Two politicians were accused of misconduct, and one lost re-election because of it.
And MTSU finally received approval, and money, from the state to begin construction on a new science building.
Other top news of the year includes the oldest restaurant in town being closed by the state, Republicans gaining a stronger hold on state politics and Wal-Mart asking to build two new stores in Murfreesboro.
Here’s the Top 10 (11, because we try harder) stories of 2012.
1. Madden convicted, sentenced
In May, jurors found Shanterrica Madden guilty of murder in the stabbing death of Lady Raider Tina Stewart, bringing more than a year of legal proceedings to a close.
Madden showed no emotion as Circuit Court Judge Don R. Ash announced she had been convicted of second-degree murder and tampering with evidence – less than two hours after jury deliberations began, following five days of testimony.
Prosecutors had sought a first-degree murder conviction, which would have resulted in Madden serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“We feel like the jury had the opportunity to consider all the evidence, and we respect their verdict,” District Attorney Bill Whitesell said after the verdict was read.
Whitesell said the fact Madden shut the door and turned off the lights, as Stewart bled to death, was perhaps the most compelling argument in the case. But he acknowledged the prosecution could never prove where the knife was located before the stabbing.
“We could not put the knife coming in the room,” he said, “and we knew that would be a weakness of the case.”
In July, Ash sentenced Madden to 29 years in prison.
Then in October, Ash denied Madden’s request for a new trial, saying all issues listed in the motion had been addressed during the original trial.
2. Islamic Center opens
In August the Rutherford County Building Codes Department issued a permanent certificate of occupancy to the Islamic Center, allowing its members to use the building, located on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike, just in time for the close of Ramadan.
The certificate was issued after a federal judge ruled the congregants of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s First Amendment rights were violated by a ruling from Chancellor Robert Corlew III. Corlew ruled the Rutherford County Commission failed to provide adequate public notice prior to approving construction of the Islamic Center.
County government is currently appealing Corlew’s ruling, arguing he legislated from the bench.
3. MTSU gets Science Building funding
During a speech focused on the importance of having an educated workforce, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced in January the proposed $31 billion state budget for 2012 included funding for construction of the new Science Building at Middle Tennessee State University.
And surprisingly it stayed in the budget. For more than 10 years, the university sought funding to pay for constructing the new building, which would provide students with state-of-the-art equipment, research laboratories and collaborative learning spaces.
Science classes are currently housed in the Wiser-Patten Science Hall and Davis Science Building, both of which are more than 40 years old and in need of updates and repairs.
Although a science building has consistently remained the top priority on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s capital outlay list, the issue has remained mired in politics, often being cut from the state’s budget during last minute negotiations among legislators in the General Assembly.
4. Boner accused of sexual harassment
Before allegations surfaced about U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Jasper) having affairs with patients during his first marriage, Rutherford County had Property Assessor Bill Boner.
In April two female employees alleged they were fired in retaliation for complaining about being sexually harassed by the now former property assessor.
The discrimination complaints were filed by former employees Kathy Dumm, 54, and Janie Zumbro, 70, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Nashville.
In the complaints, Zumbro and Dumm accused Boner of attempting to look down female employees’ shirts, making grunting sounds toward women, commenting about “sex with farm animals, and not needing a wife for sexual satisfaction.”
On several occasions, Boner, who owns a petting zoo, said “sexist comments about female customers who came into the Property Assessor’s Office” and asked employees to do cartwheels, according to the complaint filed by Dumm.
Following the allegations, Boner lost his re-election bid to Democrat Rob Mitchell in August.
5. Tennessee turns deeper shade of red
Rob Mitchell’s win over Republican Bill Boner was the Democrats’ only win this election year.
Rutherford County voters helped lead the Republican Party to a supermajority Tuesday in both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly, overwhelmingly throwing their support behind several conservative politicians.
In the newly drawn 37th District seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives, Republican candidate Dawn White won by a decisive 63 percent victory against Democratic candidate Robert “Bob” New, who received 36 percent of the vote.
For the first time since the Civil War era, Tennessee will have a Republican supermajority in the state House and Senate.
6. Rutherford County gets redistricted
Tennessee’s General Assembly district map wasn’t the only one re-drawn in 2012.
Redistricting is required by both federal and state law every 10 years after the U.S. Census is taken to ensure populations are properly represented under the concept one man, one vote.
And the Rutherford County Redistricting Committee ran into problems when La Vergne residents demanded one city, one board member.
Commissioner Rhonda Allen (Dist. 11) initially voiced concerns about how the process would affect Road Board and School Board zones in La Vergne in late 2011 when the County Commission approved the new district map. She argued the
Redistricting Committee needed to take some time to examine it before making a decision on the map, however the commission disagreed at the time.
Allen was concerned because La Vergne was divided between three School Board districts on the new map. Some citizens feared, because those members now represent nine districts in the county, their influence could be watered down.
In the end, the County Commission decided to form another committee to look at redistricting in the future.
7. City Cafe closed by state
In May downtown diners were shocked when greeted by locked doors and a sign saying the 112-year-old City Cafe was closed because of “nonpayment of Tennessee State taxes by virtue of a levy issued by the Department of Revenue, Tax Enforcement Division.”
Documents at the Rutherford County Register of Deeds office showed more than $88,000 in federal payroll tax liens and a state tax lien of an undisclosed amount were filed against Scott Perkins, doing business as The City Cafe, over a five-year period.
The restaurant reopened about a week later, but under new ownership.
Russell “Rusty” Perkins, Scott Perkins’ father and co-owner of City Cafe building at 113 E. Main St., obtained new business licenses under his name and reopened the venerable restaurant.
8. Campus School fight continued
The battle between an angry parent and the school board stretched into a new year when Dr. Tracy Pack went back to court to obtain public records concerning his son from Rutherford County Schools, Campus School and Principal Chontel Bridgeman.
Pack requested copies of the documents as part of a Tennessee Public Records Request in September 2010, including all files on Bridgeman’s allegedly stolen laptop, concerning his son. The files were not produced, and Pack filed suit in Chancery Court to compel the Rutherford County Board of Education to produce them.
Pack sought and won court orders forcing the School Board to release documents through motions and hearings, but the missing laptop has not been found.
9. Bridge over troubled Broad Street
The very same week the Tennessee Department of Transportation opened the remainder of embattled State Route 840 to traffic in November, the agency announced it will move forward with a long-awaited project in the center of Murfreesboro.
For years, local leaders and TDOT officials have discussed building an overpass at the Memorial Boulevard and Broad Street intersection.
And now it seems the rumored nightmare of a road project is actually going to happen.
When it’s finished, a four-lane Memorial Boulevard will pass over a six-lane Broad Street with entrance and exit ramps.
The $17 million project will be bid in the spring and will take an estimated three years to complete once started.
10. Wal-Marts bring hot, cold reception
Big box retailer Wal-Mart got mixed reactions when it announced two new stores for Murfreesboro.
In May, Wal-Mart submitted plans for a 152,078-square-foot building at the corner of Shelbyville Highway, otherwise known as South Church Street, and County Farm Road, complete with a grocery market, pharmacy, home goods and outdoor living departments.
In November, the retailer submitted plans for another new 180,000-square-foot store at Memorial Boulevard and Airport Road, across the road from Adams Place Assisted Living.
It was like a tale of two cities with little resistance from the South Church Street area and a loud negative reaction from north Murfreesboro.
11. Murfreesboro shuts off digital sign
Murfreesboro drivers may have noticed something missing as they drove west on Old Fort Parkway between Memorial Boulevard and Thompson Lane after the LCD digital billboard owned by Lamar Advertising near the Home Depot entrance had its power supply removed in July under orders from the Murfreesboro Codes Department. The event capped a five-year legal battle between the billboard advertising company and the city’s legal staff.
A summary judgement in Rutherford County Circuit Judge Royce Taylor’s courtroom on July 17 effectively gave Murfreesboro officials the go ahead to shut down an illegally erected digital billboard, which had been operating in defiance of the city’s sign ordinance for more than five years.
Taylor granted the city a permanent injunction, noting “city codes and ordinances regarding signs are designed and intended to promote safety.”