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Williamson County: Assistant Public Defenders comments on plea agreements raise ire of DA

It is not unusual for the offices of the District Attorney General and Public Defender to be on opposite sides of a case, but the recent resolution of armed robbery and aggravated assault cases against four Williamson County young men has one side saying “Justice is for sale” while the other cries foul.

On Tuesday, Assistant Public Defender Dana Ausbrooks on Tuesday posted a statement on her personal Facebook account regarding the resolution of aggravated robbery cases against four Williamson County men — Charles Ware, 20; Adam Hough, 19; Johnston Camp, 19; and Justin King, 20 — all of whom had been charged with four counts of aggravated robbery and four counts of aggravated assault.

Those charges stemmed from a July 31, 2009, incident in which the four “displayed firearms and placed (two juveniles) in fear of imminent bodily injury off Kinnie Road in Williamson County.” Authorities said the quartet then took $15 from one victim and $10 from the other “by violence.”

But this past Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Jeff Bivins approved a plea agreement that gave the four defendants limited jail time, extended probation and levied hefty contributions to local agencies which work with the court system, such as Williamson County Drug Court and Williamson County Child Advocacy Center. The arrangement was worked out by District Attorney General Kim Helper’s office, with Deputy Assistant DA Derek Smith and agreed to by the victims and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department.

Under the agreement, aggravated assault charges against Ware were reduced to simple assault and he received eight years probation, and agreed to make an immediate $60,000 “contribution” to the Williamson County Child Advocacy Center. Ware also was taken into immediate custody Tuesday to serve all of a sentence of 11 months, 29 days in the Williamson County Jail, due to a probation violation on earlier DUI, drinking under age and simple possession charges.

While Ware’s charges were reduced to misdemeanors under the plea agreement, his three co-defendants pleaded guilty to more serious felony counts of robbery and aggravated assault and were sentenced to 365 days each in Williamson County Jail, plus a total of 12 years of probation. Each also made a contribution of $30,000, which will be shared by various organizations, including the Court Appointed Special Advocates, Williamson County Drug Court and Boys & Girls Club, among others.

Hough, Camp and King will all have felony records “which can’t be expunged or erased,” Smith said.

But Ausbrooks said those sentences were too lenient and would be unavailable to other defendants who couldn’t afford such contributions.

“Justice is for sale in Williamson County...for the small price of $60,000 you too can settle your case for probation instead of 8 years in prison,” Ausbrooks wrote Tuesday.

“Four counts of aggravated robbery and four counts of aggravated assault. Defendant pled to eight misdemeanors, no jail time, eight years of probation and paid $60,000.00 ‘contribution,’” she later responded. “If one of my indigent clients had committed those crimes, he would be sent to prison for a minimum of 8 years!”

Helper and Smith called Ausbrooks’ statements incomplete and incorrect and a bad decision as an officer of the court.

“Each one of these young men is serving a year in jail,” Helper said, including Ware, whose entire jail term must be served day-for-day. “All are on probation for an extended period of time ranging from eight to 12 years. The other ones are all convicted felons because they pleaded to robbery.

“What happened here is we were working in this office on the appropriate resolution of these cases. This is a case where we spoke to the victims, Sheriff’s Department … none of this was done backroom and ultimately we came to a meeting of minds as to what would be a good resolution.”

Fines and contributions are often tools used in determining plea agreements, Helper said. In the case of “Wooded Rapist” Jason Burdick, the judge assessed fines of $50,000 on each count for a total of $100,000,” Helper said.

“These were all families which did have financial resources,” she said. “It is not unusual at all based on someone’s ability to pay a fine or contribution, to look at that to determine what would be appropriate resolution in the case.

“These young men were not indigent and we looked at it as opportunity to give back and contribute to the community and make amends for their action. The dollar amount is large, but only one part of everything they are required to do,” Helper said.

Smith called Ausbrooks’ comments “an attack on the entire court,” and said, “She knew nothing about my victims.

“Her statements were simply inaccurate and as an officer of the court, I would be embarrassed to print something like that,” he said.

Public Defender Vanessa Pettigrew Bryan said she had not seen the posts or spoken with Ausbrooks since she was attending a conference in West Tennessee. She reserved comment.

Posted on: 6/24/2010


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