Carter County grand jury indicts man, woman in elderly man’s death

John Thompson • Nov 15, 2012 at 9:51 PM

ELIZABETHTON — A man and woman were indicted on murder charges by a Carter County grand jury on Tuesday. The pair are accused of killing 78-year-old Lonnie Townsend on April 17.

Both Timothy Jason Pate and Whitney Kristina Harris were indicted on charges of first-degree murder, felony murder and tampering with evidence. They are scheduled to be in Criminal Court on Tuesday.

Pate and Harris earlier had a preliminary hearing in Sessions Court on Aug. 15. Judge John Walton ruled sufficient evidence had been presented during a two-hour hearing to bind the couple over to a grand jury. Pate was bound over on the same charges he is now facing in Criminal Court. Harris was bound over on accessory after the fact of first-degree murder, accessory after the fact of felony murder and tampering with evidence charges.

In the preliminary hearing, witnesses reported that Townsend had befriended the couple and provided help to them and their two children. He had been a visitor to their home at 214 Rockhouse Road.

Scott Lott, a special agent for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, testified in the preliminary hearing that Harris was cooperative and told investigators Pate planned to kill Townsend for money. He allegedly said he was stressed about Harris asking him for money and his unemployment.

Lott said Townsend was invited into the couple’s home and was sitting at one end of a couch while Harris sat next to him, holding her baby. Lott said Harris told him Pate struck Townsend in the head with a hammer.

After the killing, Townsend’s body was carried into a bedroom and the carpet was cut out and his body was rolled up in it. Harris then used bleach to clean up the blood.

Lead investigator Travis Ludlow of the Carter County Sheriff’s Department testified in the preliminary hearing that Harris led investigators to the place where Townsend’s body was dumped.

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