We have been following the Rimmer case for over a year now, and in that time we’ve come across few judicial opinions as definitive as the Hon. James C. Beasley’s on the willful suppression of evidence by a prosecutor.
You will remember that Judge Beasley found Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Henderson made “blatantly false, inappropriate and ethically questionable” statements to the Court and Michael Rimmer’s defense counsel about the existence of exculpatory evidence and “purposefully misled counsel with regard to the evidence”.
That evidence included forms from the FBI detailing two separate interviews with United States Army Sergeant James Darnell, who on both occasions identified a man named Billy Voyles (and not Michael Rimmer) from photo spreads as one of two men he saw at the scene of the crime with blood on his hands, stealing money from the cash register at the hotel where Ricci Ellsworth was murdered.
So how did the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee respond to Henderson’s conduct when it was brought to their attention through a bar complaint? They issued a public censure in December – in other words, a warning that has no bearing on Henderson’s ability to practice law or prosecute cases. Henderson plead guilty to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, Disciplinary Rule 7-103 (Performing the Duty of Public Prosecutor or Other Government Lawyer) and Rules of Professional Conduct 3.8 (Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor) and 8.4 (misconduct) and got a slap on the wrist.
Incredibly, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office has no intention of disciplining Henderson for his behavior. Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich points to Henderson’s 38 year track-record of over 400 jury trials and 50 first degree murder cases as reason to overlook his conduct in Rimmer. You’d be forgiven if those numbers made you shudder rather than feel reassured. The bar complaint filed against Henderson documents other cases where his failure to disclose favorable evidence has been discovered by the courts.
Nevertheless, if the Supreme Court’s censure is anything to go by, the powers that be in Tennessee do not intend to curb Henderson’s misconduct anytime soon.