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Murder case delayed due to witness' sudden illness

Becky Campbell • Jan 18, 2018 at 12:31 PM

A 2015 murder case delayed in August due to an attorney’s medical issue hit a brick wall Tuesday with the sudden illness and hospitalization of a state witness critical to the trial.

Dallas Sarden, 25, was scheduled for trial beginning Tuesday and continuing through the end of the week. The murder charge stems from the Aug. 18, 2015, death of Karen Parker, 59, inside her Nathaniel Drive apartment.

Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street meticulously described the situation so it would be recorded in detail if the case ever gets to a point of being appealed. Street told a pool of about 120 potential jurors that a key state witness underwent surgery on Monday and was not able to be in court this week. The witness’ medical problem was detected last week and required surgery.

No new date was set, but Street will revisit the case next week after prosecutors have time to be updated on the witness’ prognosis.

Sarden’s co-defendant in the case, Aaron Garland, now 24, was already tried and convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. In Tennessee, a person must serve 50 years before becoming eligible for parole on a life sentence. Life is the automatic sentence for a first-degree murder conviction.

Parker, described at the time by neighbors as a kind woman, was found dead with her face covered by a blanket and lying on the floor of her apartment by a maintenance worker. At first, Johnson City police treated Parker’s death as suspicious, but after receiving forensic test results made the determination it was homicide.  Police said she was smothered to death.

It was apparently Garland who became acquainted with Parker while visiting his uncle, who lived next door to Parker at the time.

The investigation led police to transactions on Parker’s bank card after her death and those transactions eventually led to Garland and Sarden. By the time the men were indicted on Sept. 2, 2015, by a Washington County grand jury on the murder charges, they were in the Sullivan County jail on aggravated robbery charges placed against them in Kingsport.

“We were able to track that down to several purchases here in Johnson City and in Kingsport. We were able to locate them after they were arrested a couple of days later in Sullivan County,” Lt. Kevin Peters said shortly after the men were arrested.

Early in the case Garland and Sarden were scheduled to be tried together, but Sarden’s attorney filed a motion to sever the cases because each man’s statement to police implicates the other one. If tried jointly and one man testified and the other didn’t, they wouldn’t both be able to exert their right to confront their accuser.  

Last week attorneys thought they had a plea deal hammered out, which would have given Sarden 40 years in prison, but he rejected it at the last minute.

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