[Masthead] Mostly Cloudy ~ 88°F  
Feels like: 97°F
Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

Relief and hard feelings follow Haithcote plea-bargain

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Hard feelings, hurt souls and relief were results of a court hearing last week affecting friends and relatives of victims and the defendant in one of the cases involving the 2002 quadruple murders in Bedford County.

William Joel "Jo Jo" Haithcote, 31, accepted concurrent 20-year sentences Wednesday for his plea to a pair of charges alleging conspiracy to commit murder by providing the murder weapon to kill Matthew Kelley and Jackie Daryl Addison. Christy Dawn Jones and Tonja Taylor were also slain in the early morning hours of June 6, 2002.

Prosecutors said Haithcote planned the murders to rob Kelley of cocaine and money and take over his drug trafficking business.

Haithcote could be released in 2013.

"The ones being convicted are getting a deal," said Susan Passion, 46, of Huntsville, Ala., the mother of Matthew Kelley, the initial target of the killings. "They are not getting the time they should get."

Haithcote's parents, Joel and Cathy Haithcote, emphasized that their son entered a "best interest" plea.

The plea means that "Jo Jo" Haithcote agrees that information presented by the state is what state witnesses would say but is not agreeing that he did those things, instead pleading guilty because it's in his "best interest" to do so. That's largely because of the prospect of being released in nine years and partly because he's already served three years on a federal drug charge.

It's all a result of the tangled system of jail time calculations, which the Haithcotes and their son's lawyer, John Norton, explained as they also provided a more specific description of the plea's nature.

Haithcote's RED (release eligibility date) is after serving 30 percent of 20 years, Norton said. But to avoid crowding prisons, Tennessee has another calculation. And that, coupled with programs and activities that provide measurements of an inmate's behavior, can further reduce the length of incarceration.

A RED date indicates the first time the state parole board might consider an inmate's eligibility for release. If granted then, under the "best case" scenario, Haithcote's state time would end before 2009, when his federal term on a conviction from a 1996 drug charge ends, according to Norton.

Dismayed that relatives of the victims didn't get a chance to speak at Haithcote's sentencing, Kelley's aunt, Kim Pigg, says, "If there's anything we can do to keep him in, we will," meaning Kelley's family will go to parole board hearings to oppose Haithcote's release.

Three other defendants in the June 2002 murders, James "Fuzz" Seibers, Jessie James Syler, and Buddy Habel, were involved in the 1996 case as well as three other men alleged by prosecutors as participants in the chain of events the night of the murders. Seibers is serving a 25-year sentence for his participation in the quadruple murder case.

"They'll probably get out in five years and my child is dead," Passion said. "I don't think they should die for this, but they should spend the rest of their lives in prison.

"My heart is broken and that's all that I can say," she said.

Joel Haithcote, who says he's aware that victims and their relatives feel cheated by the system, is relieved his son's case is over. However, he and his wife, Cathy, have their emotional pain as well as financial hurt.

"I feel so sorry for those families because they don't have closure," Cathy Haithcote said. "Physically, emotionally and spiritually, we're done. We have lived through something for years."

"It doesn't make sense that they (prosecutors) agreed to this (settlement) if he (Jo Jo) actually did it (committed murder,)" Joel Haithcote said. "The reason they wanted to settle is because they didn't have a case on the murder charges."

He has many questions about the state's case.

In a summary of the chain of events leading to and after the shooting deaths, a state prosecutor said "Jo Jo" Haithcote was dividing up drugs on June 14. A drug charge against "Jo Jo" Haithcote stemming from that alleged crime plus a federal gun charge were dismissed Wednesday.

Joel Haithcote provided photographs and a karate event program on Friday which he said proves his son was in Louisville, Ky., on June 14, 2002.

The federal gun charge hadn't been prosecuted because Haithcote hadn't been convicted in the murder case, but it was hanging there as a threat.

As a convicted felon on the drug charges from a 1996 event, Haithcote wasn't to be in possession of a gun and the murder conspiracy indictment says he provided the murder weapon, Norton explained.

Haithcote waited until a letter from federal prosecutors was delivered to Shelbyville before he agreed to enter a plea to the murder conspiracy charges. The letter said the U.S. Attorney's office wouldn't press charges against Haithcote for being a felon in possession of a gun.

Only then was Judge J.S. "Steve" Daniel called from Murfreesboro to come and conduct a hearing to accept a plea and impose the agreed-upon sentence.

A murder trial could have cost much more than $100,000, Norton said. Circuit Court Clerk Thomas Smith had made arrangements with a Shelbyville motel for jurors, alternates and court officers. Nine federal inmates were moved to four area county jails and other witnesses would have to be fed and housed for weeks, Norton said. Pathologists would have been flown in from New Jersey and Colorado.

Under cross examination from a defense attorney, testimony from state's witnesses could have raised reasonable doubt in a juror's mind, Norton said.

If Haithcote was convicted in the murder conspiracy case, then he could still be tried on federal charges, Norton said. He faced up to 47 years on the conspiracy charges, although 30 percent would likely have been served.

The federal gun charge would have required consecutive terms, meaning they'd be served one after the other, instead of at the same time. That would add about eight years and nine months. Another 7.5 years would then be added for the drug charges stemming from the alleged event when cocaine was being split up.

Together, those cases threatened to keep "Jo Jo" Haithcote in prison until he was 75 years old, according to figures provided by Norton.

Faced with such a contrast in time, nearly 44.5 years versus 20 years, the option seemed clear, the lawyer said.

Habel, represented by Robert Marlow, and Jessie James Syler, represented by Jack Dearing, still face trial.

"They're going through the same hell I've been through for the last three years," Norton said.

Dearing said he expects to hear something in the next 30 days about whether Syler or Habel will face prosecution next.