published Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Charges against Twanna Blair dropped in 1999 Valentine's Day slayings

Twanna Blair will definitely, never ever, no way be charged again in connection with Cleveland's 1999 Valentine's Day triple slayings. Maybe.

Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood dismissed indictments against Blair on Tuesday, three months after 10th Judicial District assistant prosecutor Richard Fisher told a grand jury that Blair helped two gunmen kill three people, including Blair's cousin.

She had been charged with one count of conspiracy to commit murder and other charges including facilitation to commit murder, conspiracy to commit especially aggravated robbery and facilitation to commit especially aggravated robbery.

Fisher filed those indictments more than four years after a judge acquitted Blair on the same charges. When her attorney, Lee Davis, found out about the recent indictments, he filed a motion to dismiss. He argued that the indictments violated Blair's constitutional protection against double jeopardy and were an "intentional disregard" of the law.

On Tuesday, Blair's older sister said she was not surprised by Blackwood's ruling.

"It's about time," 39-year-old Tanisha Blair said. "It's been a headache. I am so glad this is over with. We've never doubted it at all. ... That DA's office is just awful."

Blackwood's ruling is the latest episode in a drama that has unfolded since February 1999. The events began one night during a party in Sweetwater, Tenn. Twanna and her cousin, Orienthal "O.J." Blair, got into a fight with Michael "Money" Younger and Maurice Johnson.

The next night, two gunmen showed up to an apartment and bound Twanna, O.J., Cayci Higgins and Dawn Rogers. Then they shot all four of them, execution-style.

They shot Twanna in the back, but she survived. When the gunmen left, she freed herself and called 911.

Bradley County Sheriff's Office investigators considered Twanna Blair a victim. But that changed in 2006, when, Davis said, a new detective took over and became suspicious of her. The detective believed she was withholding evidence about the shooters.

Prosecutors in the 10th Judicial Circuit presented cases against Twanna Blair to grand juries in January 2007, March 2008 and October 2008. They alleged that she set up her cousin, Higgins and Rogers to be killed -- even though the gunmen also shot Twanna.

"They dumped the murder charges on her to intimidate her," Davis said. "The whole thing was one series of misguided indictments after another."

In September 2009, prosecutors brought the case to trial, charging Twanna with especially aggravated robbery and three counts of murder. The jury failed to reach a verdict, and the judge acquitted her on all charges.

She didn't know about the most recent indictments until April. Twanna, who is serving 10 years at the Silverdale correctional facility on federal drug charges, was transferred to the Bradley County Judicial Complex. There, her sister said, Twanna overheard guards discussing the new charges.

She called Davis.

"You have got to be mistaken," her attorney first told her. "This case is over."

But Davis then called Fisher, who told him: "I'll see you in court."

On Tuesday, Davis said he thinks the case is finally finished. But after what unfolded in the last couple of months, he can't be sure what prosecutors will try.

"Never in 15 years have they ever produced any evidence of any kind to prove she's anything but a victim," he said. "That's the part that gets lost. She was shot in the back and left for dead."

But not everyone was happy with Blackwood's decision. Roy Higgins, 72, believes Twanna Blair is hiding important information about the shooters who killed his daughter, Cayci Higgins. She was 19 when she died.

"She saw who did it," Roy Higgins said of Twanna. "That's what's aggravating. I don't know what part she had in it, if she had any. But she does know who did it. I don't know why she won't tell."

In addition to dismissing the indictments against Blair, Blackwood also removed Fisher as the prosecutor in a case against Younger, the man who argued with Twanna and O.J. the night before they were shot. Johnson, the other man who took part in that argument, has already been convicted on three counts of murder in this case.

Younger's attorney, Susan Shipley, argued that Fisher had a conflict of interest in the case because of his actions the last time he tried to prosecute Younger. In 2010, a judge declared a mistrial when Fisher asked a witness about Younger's past as a drug dealer even though that judge told Fisher not to.

If he wants to prosecute the case against Younger, newly elected District Attorney Steve Crump is now in charge of that case.

Contact Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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