Johnson City Press: No decision made over statements at trial

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No decision made over statements at trial

W. Kenneth Medley II • Updated Feb 12, 2019 at 12:17 PM

It was a long day in court for Derrick Benjamin Sells, 34, ending without a decision whether alleged statements made to another inmate will be permitted as evidence in his trail later this year.

Sells is charged with the shooting deaths of Kyanna Howes Vaughn, 23, Robert Aaron Vaughn, 25, and their unborn child. The two were found dead around 7 p.m. Dec. 4, 2017, inside their mobile home on Friendship Court. According to investigators, the friend that found the bodies also found two young children left to fend for themselves inside the home.

Last month, defense attorneys Steve Finney and Scott Shults filed a motion asking Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice to throw out any statements Sells may have made to several inmates assigned to watch him after he tried to commit suicide. A full day of testimony Jan. 16 was not long enough for attorneys to present evidence in the motion hearing. Monday was not long enough either.

According to an indictment, Sells’ charges are: three counts of first-degree murder; three counts of felony murder (murder in the commission of a felony); unlawful possession of a weapon; one count of especially aggravated robbery; and two counts of aggravated child abuse/neglect.

The defense motion, and discussion in court Jan. 16, primarily identified Jason Greer, 41, as the individual who made the statement to Washington County Sheriff’s Investigator Herman Hagie, the one the defense wishes to suppress.

Monday in court, Greer took the stand to defend his statement and motivations behind making such. His criminal history was laid out for the court to take into consideration. During this time he admitted that he had spent more of his adult life behind bars than as a free man.

The defense harked on Greer’s past reputation as a “snitch.” They claim that because of his involvement with two other murder cases and past incidents, he is an “agent of the state.” The defense also executed a line of questioning that suggests Greer was sent to ask Sells questions by investigators.

One investigation Greer has volunteered information for is the Rebekah Thompson death on John Exum Parkway. Two Johnson City police investigators testified in January that Greer told them he thought Isiaha Milligan, who he had been in jail with, was involved with Thompson’s death. Greer waited to be released to reveal the information out of fear of retribution.

According to the officers, Greer based his accusations off behavior displayed by Milligan when news stories about Thompson were seen. Four men are charged in Thompson’s death, including Milligan.

Another case that Greer has provided information for is the reported beating death of Joseph Lockner at the Washington County Detention Center. Greer testified that he saw what happened to Lockner while in court Monday. Special Agent Brian Fraley with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation testified to Greer’s involvement in that case Monday as well.

Greer maintained that from where he was in his “pod,” or cellblock, he had a clear line of sight to the incident. He testified that he saw another inmate strike Lockner and heard a “breaking” sound when he hit the ground. Lockner later died of his injuries suffered during the altercation at a Johnson City-area hospital.

The defense for Sells is working to uphold a part of their motion that claims their client was treated inhumanely by being stripped of his clothing and placed directly onto suicide watch after his initial arrest in 2017. The defense maintains that the duration of his being on suicide watch, along with his state of affairs and well being, was not in keeping with principles of the justice system.

Sells was stripped of his clothing, given a paper “suicide smock” and watched 24 hours a day. When he was returned to general population after his initial arrest weeks later, he did try to commit suicide, he said. Sells slit his own throat and was found in a pool of blood on Jan. 3, 2018.

He was rushed to the hospital, where physicians saved his life. He was given two units of blood, according to medical records presented in court, patched up and returned to the jail less than 24 hours later.

Records indicated the initial physician recommended Sells be admitted to the hospital for two days. Capt. Lowe testified that the physicians change their mind from their initial recommendations and it was not up to him, or the correctional officers, if an inmate is admitted.

Sells was placed back on suicide watch after this, according to court documents from the jail. During this time period is when Greer became acquainted with Sells. He was one of the trusted inmates to watch Sells.

Greer testified that in the beginning Sells was quiet when the two sat together. Then after a while he began to open up a bit to him. During the testimony Greer said that Sells admitted to being in the trailer the night of the shooting but that he did not pull the trigger.

Greer said on the witness stand, “(Sells) made a comment that he was holding these charges for somebody else.”

Greer maintained that he was not sent to gather information by anybody. He said that his voluntary supply of information stemmed from a need to have a clear conscience. He pleaded that he was a changed man. He repeated multiple times that he was saved in 2014 and had rededicated his life to the Lord.

The court adjourned at 6 p.m. after nine hours of testimony. The defense has two more witnesses to call, and the state has concluded their witness list in the motion hearing.

Judge Rice scheduled the next court date for Feb. 19, and made clear that they will move on at that time. She will also make a ruling on cell phone records at the next hearing. This case has been ongoing for 13 months and will continue for the most of this year.

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