ELIZABETHTON — Gene Scott, one of the region’s most experienced defense attorneys in murder cases, was appointed Thursday to defend Whitney Kristina Harris in her first-degree murder trial.
Harris and Timothy Jason Pate were in Criminal Court on Thursday for pre-trial motions. During the hearing, Judge Stacy Street was told that public defender David Crichton had a conflict of interest that would prevent him from defending Harris. After allowing the public defender’s office to withdraw, Scott agreed to represent Harris. Jim Lonon remains the defense attorney for Pate.
Pate and Harris are accused of killing 78-year-old Lonnie Townsend in April 2012. Both are charged with first-degree murder, felony murder and tampering with evidence.
In a preliminary hearing, witnesses said 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. The murder is alleged to have taken place inside their home.
Investigators testified that Townsend was struck in the head with a hammer while he was sitting on a couch. He was then wrapped in a carpet and his body was dumped in Unicoi County.
Because Scott is new to the case, Street set the next court appearance for Pate and Harris on Nov. 15.
Both Pate and Harris remain in pretrial confinement in the Carter County Detention Center. If bond were posted, Street ordered both to be held for other jurisdictions, Pate for a violation of probation in Sullivan County and Washington County; Harris to be held for a violation of probation in Unicoi County.