Saturday, October 6, 2012

Man on Death Row Gets New Trial in Kingsport Killing




The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals recently ruled that Steven James Rollins, a former death row inmate involved in the fatal stabbing of an elderly East Tennessee bait shop owner, ought to receive a new trial.

Rollins was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery in the killing of 81-year-old James T. Bussell inside Bussell’s Fisherman’s Paradise bait shop near Kingsport, TN in August of 2001. Rollins was originally sentenced to death, but the sentence was overturned in 2010 and a new sentencing hearing was ordered. The decision was then appealed to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals which decided to reverse his conviction.

The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Rollins had received ineffective assistance of counsel and that the trial was also defective due to a “biased juror.” The two issues were related given that the Court found that Rollins’ attorney failed to properly question prospective jurors to help with weeding out those with biases.

The problematic juror was identified as “Juror 9.” In a 2008 affidavit, the juror admitted to knowing Bussell and having bought bait from him once a week before he was killed. The juror said that he had made up his mind about Rollins the moment they seated the jury. He said he could tell just by looking at him that he was guilty. The juror sealed the deal about his own bias by admitting that, in his opinion, “death is the only appropriate punishment” for someone who is convicted of murder.

The Court of Criminal Appeals said that Juror 9’s failure to admit his friendship with Bussell amounted to a presumption of bias. Given this bias, the Court found that Rollins was denied his right to a fair and impartial jury. The Court went on to highlight how Rollins’ attorney failed to ask jurors if they knew the victim, something the Court found to be “objectively unreasonable” and amounting to a “deficient performance.”

To read the full opinion, click here.

See Our Related Blog Posts:
The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals on Split Confinement
TN Court of Criminal Appeals Rejects Petition From Defendant With Life Sentence

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