Lee Scott Renfro
To help avoid an overloaded arraignment docket on Tuesday after being closed two days for inclement weather and one for a holiday, Washington County court officials decided to hold Saturday court.
No public notification was sent out, but according to the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, it wasn’t required.
One of those arraignments held Saturday was for Lee Scott Renfro, 51, 15 South Hills Circle. He’s a Johnson City pharmacist charged with trying to kill his wife by injecting her with a diabetic medication while she was hospitalized, apparently for unexplained low blood sugar.
Renfro’s wife, Martha Renfro, had been hospitalized three other times for unexplained low blood sugar. She was a patient at Johnson City Medical Center on Feb. 12 when a nurse saw something suspicious in her room and went to investigate.
Renfro was arrested hours later after he told police investigators he didn’t remember injecting his wife, but he must have since he was the only one in the room with her. He was scheduled to be arraigned Friday, but court was closed because of bad weather.
He was arraigned Saturday and given a court hearing date for today. Judge James Nidiffer also ordered Renfro’s $100,000 bond would remain the same for now. Renfro has hired two attorneys — Jim Bowman and Nikki Himebaugh — to represent him.
A state law, TCA 16-15-404, specifically addresses a judge’s ability to hear a cause at any time. It reads:
“Each general sessions court judge is authorized to try any cause that may be brought before the judge at any time and at any place within the county, unless expressly prohibited by some positive provision of this code.”
Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn said the issue of Saturday court came up because the courthouse closed early Wednesday and remained closed the rest of last week because of the weather. Monday was Presidents Day so court was also closed.
That meant the arraignment docket on Tuesday would have included people arrested from Wednesday through Monday. Add that to the regular dockets and court hearings scheduled for Tuesday, and there was potential for a very long day for judges, attorneys and the clerks.
“We’ve done it before, but we usually go to the jail to do arraignments,” when necessary, Guinn said. “We do it to help the people, the overcrowding at the jail and to help us too.”
On Saturday the Justice Center was already being used for a Mock Trial competition among area high schools. Guinn said the students only needed six courtrooms, so arraignments were conducted in the seventh.
That also allowed the few who did know about the hearings to be able to attend. Guinn said there were a few members of one defendant’s family who attended Saturday.
Another factor that played into the decision for Saturday court was that Guinn had two deputy clerks working Saturday to get dockets ready for Tuesday.
Having the available courtroom and her employees already working, Guinn said it made sense to go ahead with the arraignments. She said cases for 19 people in jail awaiting arraignment were handled Saturday.comments powered by Disqus