Third installment of motion to suppress evidence in triple murder case closes hearing, judge will file written ruling on decision

Becky Campbell • Feb 19, 2019 at 8:15 PM

After a total of 20 hours of testimony over 2 1/2 days on a motion to suppress statements a murder defendant allegedly made to a jailhouse snitch, there was no ruling when the hearing finished late Tuesday afternoon.

Derrick Benjamin 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 who found the bodies also found two young children left to fend for themselves inside the home.

Sells’ attorneys, Steve Finney and Scott Shultz, filed motions in December asking the judge to toss out statements prosecutors want to use against Sells in which he allegedly admitted to being present when the Vaughns were killed but denied being the person who shot them.

Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice said she had four or five legal pads full of written notes she took on the three separate days — all day on Jan. 16 and Feb. 11 and half a day Tuesday — and needed time to review those to ensure she made a sound decision. One thing she will consider is the closing arguments attorneys gave, particularly Finney, who hammered on the fact Washington County Sheriff’s Investigator Herman Hagie failed to produce a video recording of a witness interview.

That video, which was an interview with Jason Greer, one of several inmates assigned to keep watch over Sells while he was on suicide watch, surfaced the morning of Jan. 16 — the first day of the motion to suppress hearing. Finney said when he went to ask Hagie if there was more to a four-page report he had received about Greer’s statement, Hagie told him it was rude of him to show up without calling first.

“Twenty-eight years practicing law, that’s the first time I’ve had the door shut in my face by a representative of the state at the sheriff’s department,” Finney said. “He’s hiding it. I know you don’t want to believe it, but he’s part of this. When I had him red-handed, he finally admitted it. ‘Oh, I forgot it,’ about the video,” Finney said.

“He’s a 20-year loser snitch that’s never had a job in his life who didn’t want to go back to prison. The more he talks, he keeps getting better jobs,” in the jail, Finney said. He went as far as to compare Hagie’s credibility on the level of Greer’s.

The defense also slammed on Greer, who they say was an “agent of the state” sent in to pry Sells for information. Finney said Greer found favor with the sheriff’s office and was released from jail four months after giving the statement to Hagie. The defense motion also attacked how Sells was treated while on suicide watch — the time before his actual suicide attempt and the time after he sliced his throat, lost two pints of blood and was immediately returned to jail, and suicide watch, after being treated at Johnson City Medical Center.

Assistant District Attorney General Erin McArdle argued that witnesses from the detention center, which included Capt. Chris Lowe, current acting administrator of the facility and former jail administrator Maj. Brenda Downes, who is now the county’s Circuit Court clerk, showed that inmates on suicide watch are all treated the same. Their clothes are taken from them, they have no mattress in a concrete cell and they’re given a “smock” that looks more like a thick blanket as their only covering.

“We’ve heard from other inmates that all have indicated that Mr. Sells was afforded more luxuries than anyone else,” on suicide watch, McArdle said. “He was allowed phone calls, visitations were arranged and although it’s not fun being on suicide watch in the jail and being naked, that’s the policy of the jail.”

The judge also heard testimony on a motion to suppress data extracted from Sells’ cell phone. It involved a special program used to glean information, even deleted data, from a phone for use during investigations.

Rice said she will file a written ruling on both motions. Sells remains jailed on a $1 million bond. His next court appearance is in June and his trial is set for December.











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