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UPDATE: Local attorneys, judges comment on DA Tony Clark's death in Nashville

Becky Campbell • Updated Mar 25, 2018 at 7:14 PM

Word spread quickly throughout Northeast Tennessee and across the state Sunday that 1st Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark died in Nashville while on a trip with his family.

Metro Nashville police sent a social media message out saying: “Northeast Tennessee District Attorney General Anthony "Tony" Clark, 54, of Unicoi County, died from apparent natural causes today at Nashville's Cambria Hotel. He was to have had a medical procedure here this week. Family members were in town with him.”

Others said Clark was also in Nashville for a concert by the Eagles.

Clark, 54, had been in office since 2006 and was re-elected to an eight-year term in 2014. A Johnson City native and graduate of Greeneville High School, Clark earned bachelor's degrees in criminal justice and political science from East Tennessee State University and earned his law degree in 1992 from the University of Tennessee.

He had served as an assistant district attorney general in the district starting in 1994.

Anyone who knew Clark knew he was an avid Tennessee Volunteers fan and loved attending games. Area attorneys and prosecutors who spoke publicly about Clark’s passing all had a similar thing to say — he was a good man with a big heart who cared about and loved his friends and family.

“I’ve talked to Judge (Lisa) Rice ... we’re shocked and saddened,” Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street, who attended law school with Clark, said. “He was a good attorney, he was a good District Attorney, but he was a better person. He always tried to do what was right and I always respected him for that. It’s a loss, not only this judicial district, but it’s a loss for our community.”

Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said he and Clark talked often about work, but the conversations always turned to their families and sports.

“I’ve known Tony a long time,” Staubus said. Clark was an intern for Johnson City attorney Richard Pectol, which is where Staubus worked and met Clark. “Since I became DA, he and I talked regularly about work, about sports, about family. I considered him a very close friend.”

Staubus said he received a call from Pectol earlier Sunday about Clark’s passing.

“I was completely shocked. I sent an email to my employees because a lot of them knew Tony and I also sent an email to District Attorney Generals across the state,” he said. “I think everybody is in shock, but everyone agreed Tony had a big heart and was a nice guy and they’re going to miss him.”

1st Judicial District Public Defender Jeff Kelly, who like many defense attorneys found himself at opposition with Clark in the courtroom, said Clark was “just a decent human being.”

Kelly is no stranger to the situation as his former boss, Bob Oaks, passed away while in office.

“Besides being a fine District Attorney General, and always being fair, he was a fine human being. I’ve known him for many years. I’m just brokenhearted. My prayers go out to his wife and family.”

Pectol, who gave Clark his first job in a law office, said he often joked with Clark and Staubus, wondering how two prosecutors evolved from working in his law office.

“Everybody loved him,” Pectol said. “In the office he was just a lovable big teddy bear kind of guy. He was a very compassionate person, he was obviously very well liked. I don’t think everybody realizes the stress the office of District Attorney brings with it. Tony worked everyday at it hard. I think he was fair and even handed in his prosecution and he cared about people.”

Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner said he, like others, was shocked to hear of Clark’s death.

“I think he’ll always be remembered as someone who wanted to do what was right, wanted to do what was fair,” Turner said. “Everyone may not have agreed with everything. ... Tony was always a true professional he always did the right thing in his heart; he did what he thought was right.”

Leslie Earhart, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, also posted on social media: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and co-workers of 1st Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark. @TBInvestigation lost a true friend today. He will be greatly missed.”

Like many, Washington County Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen had known Clark more than two decades.

“Tony and I met in 1995, when he was a new assistant district attorney for then DA General David Crockett and I was the new human resources clerk for the Sheriff’s Office for then-Sheriff Fred Phillips,” Laitinen said. “We immediately became fast friends.  Tony was always someone I could turn to for help ... personally or professionally. Tony cared ... he truly cared about the victims he and his office represented. He took it home with him, he took it to heart and he fought for them every day. I was truly blessed to call him my friend. His passing is a tremendous loss and my prayers are with his wife Janice and his family.”

Employees at Clark’s office also expressed their shock and grief.

“I think everybody’s at a loss as far as what to do,” Assistant District Attorney General Erin McArdle. “I sat with him til 6:30 Thursday night talking about cases ... he was so excited about going to Nashville to see the Eagles. He would give you the shirt off his back, his last dollar. And that’s for a stranger. He was an amazing human being.”

On her Facebook page, McArdle also expressed her grief: “My boss, my dear friend, my confidante ... I am in a complete numb, shocked state. I love you Tony Clark and will miss you tremendously.”

Chris Ledford, another assistant district attorney general, posted: “What will we do now seems to be the question I'm hearing. We will be fearless prosecutors just like he taught us to be. We will fight for all that is right against terrible odds and we will do him proud. We will assure that his legacy is one of truth and Justice and kindness and compassion and generosity because that was who he was and who he expected us to be. We will mourn a great man and we will always remember what he stood for. We are going to be alright because he would expect us to. That's what we are going to do.”

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Reported earlier:

Word spread quickly throughout Northeast Tennessee and across the state Sunday with the news that 1st Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark died in Nashville while on a trip with his family.

Metro Nashville police sent a social media message out saying: “Northeast Tennessee District Attorney General Anthony "Tony" Clark, 54, of Unicoi County, died from apparent natural causes today at Nashville's Cambria Hotel. He was to have had a medical procedure here this week. Family members were in town with him.”

Clark, 54, had been in office since 2006 and was re-elected to an eight-year term in 2014. A Johnson City native and graduate of Greeneville High School, Clark earned bachelor's degrees in criminal justice and political science from East Tennessee State University and earned his law degree in 1992 from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

He had served as an assistant DA in the district starting in 1994.

Area attorneys and prosecutors who spoke publicly about Clark’s passing all had a similar thing to say - he was a good man with a big heart who cared loved his family.

Anyone who knew Clark knew he was an avid Tennessee Volunteers fan and loved attending games.

Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus said he and Clark talked often about work, but the conversations always turned to their families and sports.

“I’ve known Tony a long time,” Staubus said. Clark was an intern for Johnson City attorney Richard Pectol, which is where Staubus worked and met Clark. “Since I became DA, he and I talked regularly about work, about sports, about family. I considered him a very close friend.”

Staubus said he received a call from Pectol earlier Sunday about Clark’s passing.

“I was completely shocked. I sent an email to my employees because a lot of them knew Tony and I also sent an email to District Attorney Generals across the state,” he said. “I think everybody is in shock, but every agreed Tony had a big heard and was a nice guy and they’re going to miss him.”

 

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Reported earlier:

1st Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark has been found dead in a Nashville hotel room, several sources close to the situation confirmed Sunday.

Clark, 54, had been in office since 2006 and was re-elected to an eight-year term in 2014. A Johnson City native and graduate of Greeneville High School, Clark earned bachelor's degrees in criminal justice and political science from East Tennessee State University and earned his law degree in 1992 from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

He had served as an assistant DA in the district starting in 1994.

Keep visiting JohnsonCityPress.com for more details on this developing story.

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