Deliberations set to begin in attempted murder trial in Carter

John Thompson • Sep 12, 2012 at 9:42 PM

ELIZABETHTON — A Carter County jury will begin deliberations this morning on whether Billy Jack Lyons committed attempted first-degree murder seven years ago.

The jury heard testimony from six witnesses on Wednesday afternoon, including the testimony of Robert Emerson about how Lyons stabbed him in the chest after burning down Emerson’s barn with four horses inside on May 18, 2005.

Assistant District Attorney General Ken Baldwin said Emerson had acted as a Good Samaritan to Lyons. They were neighbors at the end of Livingston Hollow Road, near the head of Stoney Creek.

Emerson testified he took a meal and cake to Lyons the night before he was stabbed.

“He must not have liked the cake,” Emerson said.

Baldwin told the jury the motive for Lyons’ actions was to end Emerson’s attempts to purchase the property Lyons lived on. Lyons had lived with his mother on the property. His mother died a year before the attack. After that, Emerson began negotiating with Lyons’ sister to purchase the property. Baldwin said Lyons would be forced to leave after the purchase.

Despite this cloud, Emerson said he thought he had a good relationship with his neighbor. He said he not only provided meals to him, but occasional transportation and each day supplied Lyons with five gallons of water to flush toilets because Lyons did not have water or electricity at his house.

Baldwin said Lyons was attempting to discourage Emerson from purchasing the property by damaging the house. Several witnesses described how the house had been trashed and shingles had been torn off and thrown in the yard. Emerson testified that despite the destruction, he was still interested in buying the property.

Despite the apparently calm relationship between the neighbors, Baldwin told the jury in his closing statements that Emerson was unaware “of the seething emotions inside Billy Jack Lyons.”

Those emotions also included some apparently imagined wrongs Lyons believed Emerson had done to him, including suspicions that he woke up sore in the morning because Emerson beat him at night, that a misplaced BB gun had been stolen by Emerson and the foul taste in Lyons’ mouth in the morning might have been the result of oral sex with Emerson or someone else.

Baldwin said those emotions led Lyons to go to Emerson’s barn and set it on fire with the four horses inside. In a taped confession, Lyons admitted setting the fire and thought there were only two horses inside but they “needed to die.”

Emerson said he woke up to the sound of the horses screaming as they were burned alive inside the barn. Emerson testified he had no immediate suspicion of who could have committed the crime.

He said he was standing near the barn with two friends when Lyons walked toward him. He said Lyons asked him how he was doing and Emerson said he replied he was not doing so good because he just lost his horses and his barn in a fire.

“I turned to say something ... and he stabbed me,” Emerson said. Baldwin had Emerson unbutton his shirt and show the scar to the jury. Emerson said he suffered a punctured lung and was in the hospital for two weeks.

Defense attorney David Crichton told the jury to listen to Lyons’ taped confession. While the state accepted all Lyons’ statements that fit its theory, Crichton said the state was not willing to accept Lyons’ statement that he did not intend to kill Emerson. Lyons said he only stabbed the muscle in Emerson’s chest.

Crichton said if Lyons intended to kill Emerson, he could have stabbed him several times. Baldwin responded by saying if Lyons did not intend to kill Emerson, he should have stabbed him in the arm or leg. He said only a surgeon could be sure of not killing someone when they stabbed in the left side of the chest.

The case has taken so long to go to trial because psychiatrists have ruled Lyons was not competent to stand trial. In 2006, the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute evaluated Lyons and found “he is not competent to stand trial and to assist in his defense.”

In 2009, Lakeshore Mental Health Institute determined “Lyons is still not competent to stand trial, although, lately he has begun to show some progress. The forensic team has determined the likelihood of him becoming competent to stand trial in the future is probable.”

In 2011, Assessment and Forensic Services, a division of Frontier Health, evaluated Lyons and said “Mr. Lyons has been taking his medication in the Carter County Jail and by all reports has behaved properly, has not required any crisis consultants, and is considered psychiatrically stable by medical staff at the jail. ... We have concluded that Billly Jack Lyons has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.”

Jury deliberations will begin at 8:30.

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