published Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Judge sets court date in $20 million McMinn County lawsuit

A federal judge set Jan. 30 as the date lawyers will argue whether a $20 million lawsuit against McMinn County by a man wrongly convicted and sentenced for execution in his daughter's death but whose case was later overturned will continue or be dismissed.

Gussie Willis Vann filed the lawsuit from Morgan County Correctional Complex through his attorney, Robin Flores, in August, where Vann is serving back-to-back 25-year sentences for a separate rape conviction.

The lawsuit alleges that McMinn County criminal investigators Jerry Lynn Tate and Gary Cullins held Vann without probable cause for 48 hours and then denied him access to a lawyer for 10 months following the July 31, 1992, death of his 8-year-old daughter, Necia.

A jury later convicted Vann on murder and incest charges and sentenced him to death. On appeal he won a new trial but prosecutors instead dismissed charges and dropped the case.

Both Cullins and Tate have since died and the prosecutor in Vann's criminal case is likely immune from charges in his official duties, Flores said. But he said McMinn County government can be held responsible for actions against his client.

Knoxville attorney Arthur Knight III attended Friday's meeting with Flores and Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier.

Collier scheduled oral arguments by both sides for Jan. 30 for Knight's motion to dismiss the case.

In 13 years of law practice Flores said he had never been asked to conduct oral arguments on a motion to dismiss. Most of those decisions are made by judges reviewing court documents filed by both sides.

Knight is asking the court to dismiss the case for multiple reasons, first that the statute of limitations has run out on Vann's claim and also because the state court granted him relief on problems with his original trial by holding a new trial in which he was acquitted.

Also, according to Knight's court filing, Tennessee Supreme Court Senior Judge Donald Harris denied Vann's request for further relief based on the investigators' conduct.

In his written response Flores argues that the statute of limitations isn't a factor because his client's charges weren't dismissed until 2012 and said many issues he raises in this lawsuit are based on the reasons prosecutors dismissed the case.

He said many of the constitutional rights Vann was deprived of were never addressed and won't be unless this lawsuit goes forward.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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