Local News Articles

Police Keeping Tight Lipped About Murder Investigation; David Dixon Believed to be Person of Interest

August 10, 2012
Dwayne Page
David Dixon (Photo from Previous Arrest)
Ramon Beacham
Jose Sagaon

While Smithville Police are keeping tight lipped about the double murder investigation on Tommy Harrell Street, WJLE has learned that investigators have talked to a man named David Dixon and that he may be a person of interest.

Apparently no charges have been filed in the case.

Police Chief Randy Caplinger has not given a public statement on this investigation since Tuesday night, apparently not wanting to talk without the okay of the District Attorney General's Office.

Meanwhile, one of the victims in the double murder will be laid to rest Saturday.

The funeral for 55 year old Ramon Beacham will be tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. at the Chapel of Love-Cantrell Funeral Home. Mike Clayborn and Virgil Hibdon, Jr. will officiate. Burial will be in Whorton Springs Cemetery.

Beacham was found dead in his home Tuesday afternoon, apparently the victim of a shooting. The body of the other man, an Hispanic, was reportedly found beneath a pile of debris in the back yard of the residence. He too had been shot. WJLE has learned that his name is Jose Sagaon.

Local Mexican restaurants and stores have collection boxes apparently trying to raise money to send Sagaon's body back to his home country.

School Enrollment Up

August 10, 2012
Dwayne Page
Clay Farler

School enrollment numbers are up compared to this time last year

Attendance Supervisor Clay Farler, during Thursday night's school board meeting, said that county wide, the enrollment is currently 3,055 and could be as many as 3100 once all the pre-k students are counted. DeKalb County High School's enrollment is currently at 869 where the 12th grade is at 201 students, higher than in the past for the senior class at this point in the school year. "There were only 847 students at DCHS on the fifth day of school last year. There's 869 now and we pretty much have accounted for the no shows except for two or three. It's a little larger number, especially at the high school," said Farler.

"Mr (Danny) Parkerson's school (DeKalb West) is about the same as last year. I think he's got 435 students at the moment but that doesn't include all the pre-K students there so it's probably more like 440. The total throughout the county is 3,055. Of course, this will change some by next Thursday, the tenth day of school. That's the official day everything should be accounted for. All students who haven't shown up yet, we've got to track them down. We only have about 45 or 46 students that we don't know for sure if they're coming or not. It's probably less than that," said Farler.

"We also don't have all the pre-K students on the roll yet but that was also the case last year. When they get added to the roll, there will be approximately 40 more students. So it will be pushing 3100 students county-wide. But like I said, there are several no shows that will probably come off that number. Even at that, we'll probably still be up from last year. There are no grade levels at the present time that have under 200 students. They all have over 200 students except for Pre-K. The smallest class is the senior class or 12th grade. They are at 201 students at the moment. The largest class has been moving through year by year. Now they're up to the sixth grade. They have 256 students county wide. They're by far the largest class. Most of the other classes are between 210 students on up to 233 so all the classes from kindergarten to the 12th grade have over 200 students. We usually start at 175 to 180 students in the senior class. The fifth grade county wide is 241 students. The fourth grade is 235 and the third grade is 228," said Farler.

Farler added that its hard to determine the number of students to anticipate at the start of school each year because there's a lot of movement of families in and out of the county.

Meanwhile, Farler reported that for the first time in several years, three year old children will be attending pre-kindergarten at DeKalb West School. "There are two pilot classrooms in the county and have been since 2002. Those pilot classrooms can have three and four year old students. But the other three pre-k classes at Smithville Elementary School can only have four year old students. We're already full in the four year old classes and we're within one or two students being full at DeKalb West School and Smithville Elementary School mainly because they have three year old students in those classrooms. You cannot have a full 20 students if you have three year olds in the room," he said.

Meanwhile, Director of Schools Mark Willoughby gave his monthly report on personnel to the school board.

Carl Douglas Cantrell, substitute custodian
Rick Cross, special education teacher at Northside Elementary School
Bethany Davis, Transition Coordinator Teacher at DCHS
Michelle McManus, substitute cook
Diana Moon, teacher at DeKalb West School
Chris Moore, special education assistant at DeKalb Middle School
Joshua Odom, teacher at Northside Elementary School
Michael Shaw, teacher at DCHS
Kristen Kell, special education teacher at DeKalb West School

Holly Bain, transferred to Pre-K Educational Assistant at DeKalb West School
Katherine Ballard, full time School Psychologist
Brenda Bandy, transferred from DCHS to DeKalb West School
Shelly Gibson, transferred to Regular Education Assistant at DeKalb West School
Lynn Griffith, transferred from bus assistant to Special Ed Bus Driver
Debbie Knowles, transferred to new Special Ed Assistant position at Northside Elementary School
Daniel Lawson, transferred from sub bus driver to Special Education Bus Driver
James Donnie Lewis, transferred from sub bus driver to full time route
Paula Pinegar, transferred to Library Assistant position at DeKalb Middle School
Teresa Spencer, transferred to Special Education position at DeKalb Middle School
Carol Tallent, transferred to new Special Education Teacher position at Smithville Elementary School Kindergarten
Judy Wiggin, transferred from sub bus assistant to full time.

Jimmy Poss, bus driver

TDOT Projects Tour to Make Another Stop in DeKalb County

August 9, 2012
Dwayne Page
Hurricane Bridge

Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer will be visiting DeKalb County next week on his statewide "TDOT Projects Tour" in Region 2.

During this week-long tour, Commissioner Schroer, elected officials and transportation officials will travel by bus to view TDOT projects currently underway and those listed on the department's "Three Year Program." . The visit locally will be to Hurricane bridge on Thursday, August 16

The Region 2 Tour is the first of four tours that will be held in East, Middle, and West Tennessee. The Region 2 Tour kicks off in Cannon County on Monday, August 13 and will wind up in DeKalb County.

The TDOT Projects Tour visited DeKalb County last year, stopping to view both Sligo bridge and Hurricane bridge.

Hurricane bridge currently is down to only one lane of traffic, and it is being maintained and controlled by a temporary signal for the safety of the traveling public. The current weight postings of 10 tons for two-axle vehicles and 18 tons for vehicles with three or more axles will remain in effect and will be strictly enforced. This will allow for work adjacent to the north side of the bridge to continue. Further temporary lane shifts may be implemented by flaggers on an “as needed” basis to facilitate work as it progresses. Estimated project completion date is October 2013.

Smithville Police Continue Double Murder Investigation

August 8, 2012
Dwayne Page
Smithville Police Detective Brandon Donnell and TBI Agent

Detectives continue to follow up on leads and are checking out a person of interest in a double murder investigation in Smithville.

Smithville Police made the gruesome discovery Tuesday afternoon at a house on Tommy Harrell Street after they got a 911 call.

When officers arrived, they found one man dead inside the house. Another man was dead outside, underneath a debris pile near the residence.

Police still have not released their names yet.

There is still no word yet on what the motive may have been.

Richard Mooney Found Not Guilty in Murder of Robert Senick

August 8, 2012
Dwayne Page
Richard Mooney
Attorney Joshua Crain

After deliberating for three hours, a DeKalb County Criminal Court Jury of eight women and four men found 34 year old Richard Mooney not guilty of felony murder and theft of property over $1,000 Wednesday afternoon in the death of 63 year old Robert "Bob" Senick.

Mooney is not a free man. He is currently serving a ten year sentence in a Rutherford County car jacking case and is being returned there to be incarcerated.

"Obviously it was a difficult case," said Joshua Crain, attorney for Mooney in an interview with WJLE. "My client was facing first degree murder charges. The state had a good case that they put together with very competent attorneys on their side. A lot of investigation went into this case. Obviously my client is pleased with the outcome. From our standpoint and our investigation of the case, we believe it's the right outcome," said Crain

"My approach to this case was very simple, to look at what the state had done to make sure they had done everything they should have done in order to convict my client. If they had, then he would have gone to prison. If they had not, then it was my job to show that it hadn't been done. That's the approach we took from the beginning and ultimately we were successful with that," said Crain.

"I am surprised by the verdict but unfortunately when you are dealing with a case that involves drugs, more often than not your witnesses are not going to be very credible people," said Gary McKenzie, Deputy District Attorney and one of the state prosecutors in the case. " Our office does take pleasure in the fact that the defendant (Mooney) will continue serving his ten year sentence in a car jacking case in Rutherford County," he said

Prior to the trial, indications are that the defense might have been willing to take a plea to manslaughter, a lesser offense than felony murder, but McKenzie said the District Attorney General's Office did not feel that was appropriate in this case. A manslaughter conviction could have carried a sentence of 5 to 10 years. Under that arrangement, Mooney could have been eligible for release after serving at least 30% of the sentence.

Had he been convicted of felony murder, Mooney could have been facing a life prison sentence.

Crain told WJLE that perhaps the biggest concern of the case for the defense was the DNA evidence. "There's no doubt. With today's popular media, just those three little letters, DNA to a lot of people become the magic bullet," he said.

Denying charges that he murdered Robert "Bob" Senick almost three years ago, Richard Mooney testified in his own defense Tuesday, on the second day of his murder trial in DeKalb County Criminal Court.

"He was a friend of mine. I didn't have anything to do with his death," said Mooney, referring to Senick, whose charred remains were found beneath the rubble of his burned down trailer home on October 7, 2009 near Liberty. Senick had been shot once in the head.

Investigators believe Mooney shot Senick, stole drugs and cash from the residence, and then burned down the home. But Mooney, often sounding defiant while on the witness stand, insisted that investigators never had any proof of his guilt. Mooney accused TBI agent Billy Miller and Sheriff Patrick Ray of twisting the truth in order to try and win a conviction against him in court.

After hearing from six witnesses on Monday, prosecutors Gary McKenzie and Greg Strong called six more witnesses Tuesday, including Sheriff Ray, and then rested the state's case. Mooney's attorney, Crain called four witnesses for the defense, including Mooney, who chose to take the stand, he said so that the jury could hear the truth. "I have nothing to hide", said Mooney.

Mooney, who has a history of criminal activity including thefts, assault, and carjacking in other counties, claimed it was ridiculous to think he would have killed Senick for cash, when Senick, according to Mooney would have willingly given him any money he needed, if he had it because he was such a good friend.

So why then was Mooney's DNA or blood found on Senick's Lincoln Towncar, canopy poles supporting the awning over the car, and on a knife and sheath found on the hood of Senick's car?

Mooney had an explanation. He testified that a few days before Senick's death, he went to visit Senick and took along his pit bull. When he arrived, the dog jumped out of the vehicle and began fighting with Senick's much larger dog. Mooney said he grabbed a knife and stick to pull the dogs apart and was bitten by Senick's dog, causing him to bleed. Mooney claims he put the knife down on Senick's car and must have brushed up against both the car and the canopy poles leaving behind the blood stains, later found by investigators after Senick's death.

Following Mooney's testimony, the state called Chief Deputy Don Adamson to the stand for brief testimony. Adamson said he remembered seeing Senick on the afternoon before his death. Adamson said both he and Senick were driving in the same direction, heading west on Highway 70 near Dowelltown. As Adamson passed Senick's Lincoln Towncar, he looked over but did not spot any stains on the vehicle. According to Adamson, that is something he most likely would have remembered, had they been there. After Adamson's testimony Judge Leon Burns, Jr. sent the jurors home for the night.

Closing arguments began Wednesday morning, followed by Judge Burns' charge to the jury. The jurors then retired to the jury room to begin deliberations at 11:10 a.m. They returned with their verdict at 2:10 p.m.

WJLE was the only news source to cover the trial from beginning to end. The following is a summary of witness testimony on Tuesday.

Warren Glasby, a cousin of Mooney, testified that shortly after he had gotten out of prison, he and Mooney were in a car together when Mooney confessed to killing Senick. Crain, Mooney's attorney asked why Glasby had waited two years to give that statement to investigators, having come forward with this development only a little over a month ago. Crain asked whether Glasby was expecting a plea deal from state prosecutors in exchange for his testimony, since Glasby is currently facing a possible 20 year prison sentence on pending charges of selling drugs in a school zone. Glasby denied Crain's assertion and then began to blame Mooney for his having had to serve a twelve year sentence in a carjacking case he and Mooney were involved in at Rutherford County. "I got a twelve year sentence because of him (Mooney). He took me away from my family," said Glasby. Crain then asked Glasby if perhaps he had come forward to testify because he was mad at Mooney and saw this as a way of getting back at him. Glasby denied it.

Sheriff Ray testified that when he interviewed Mooney during the investigation, he noticed that Mooney had a cut on his wrist and had asked him about it. Mooney claimed that he had got the cut while working on a car he had bought that had broke down. Sheriff Ray, convinced that Mooney had received the cut while at Senick's home during the killing, informed Mooney that investigators had obtained DNA evidence at the scene. Sheriff Ray said Mooney kept asking about what kind of DNA and where it had been found. Mooney asked if the DNA were on cigarette butts or on drink cans. According to the Sheriff, Mooney surmised that the DNA could not have been found inside Senick's home because it would not have survived the fire. After Sheriff Ray told Mooney that blood had been found, Mooney brought up that he and Senick had done some cocaine and that his nose had bled, apparently making an excuse for why the blood was at the scene. But earlier in the interrogation, Sheriff Ray said that Mooney had denied being a big drug user, saying that he preferred beer and liquor.

As for the cut to Mooney's wrist, John Vantrease of Alexandria and formerly of Auburntown testified that he had seen Mooney a few days after Senick's death and that Mooney had told him he had cut his wrist while working on the gear shifter in the console of the car, which had stuck. Vantrease said Mooney was a friend of his but that he had not known Senick very well.

Shortly after Senick's death, Mooney went to Murfreesboro where he bought a used Saturn for $1,200. James Jarvis, a salesman for Battleground Motor Company in Murfreesboro, testified that he sold Mooney the car. Jarvis said the Saturn was in the price range of the car Mooney was looking for. But after he had gotten only three miles down the road, the car broke down as something went wrong with the gear shift. Although investigators claim someone from the dealership came to his assistance, Mooney said he tried to fix the car himself, resulting in the cut to his wrist. Mooney had the car only a short time when he sold it for $152 to a salvage yard in Woodbury, where the car was crushed.

Donald Dillon, a resident of Dowelltown who admitted selling oxycontin to Mooney and his sister and her boyfriend on a few occasions, recalled how that on the last visit, October 3, 2009 Mooney and his sister had no cash to buy the drugs. Dillon let them have the drugs anyway, telling them they could sell it and bring him back the money later, which they did, according to Dillon. On another occasion after Senick's death, Dillon recalled that Mooney had come to his home asking for a ride which led to him taking Mooney to his parent's home. During the ride, Mooney asked him if he knew of anyone who would be interested in buying a nine millimeter handgun. Dillon said when they arrived at Mooney's parents home, they saw deputies there, and Mooney asked him to back out of the driveway. But Mooney eventually got out of the car.

Dr. Laura Boos of the TBI Crime Lab DNA unit, said she tested blood spots and or DNA found on Senick's car, canopy poles, and the knife and sheath found at the crime scene, comparing it with a known DNA sample taken from Mooney and she got a match. However, Dr. Boos couldn't say how long the DNA had been present on those items before they were discovered. "The tests can't tell you how or when the DNA got there," she said.

Attorney Crain, during cross examination of TBI Agent Billy Miller, asked why investigators focused on Mooney when there were others of questionable character associated with Senick who may have been involved in his death. He even mentioned one man who showed up at the Lebanon Police Department a month after Senick's death wanting to know if there was a warrant against him for the disappearance of a man named "Bob". Agent Miller said he and Sheriff Ray went to Lebanon and talked to the man, but found him to be delusional. Still, according to Crain, "People lied to investigators, concealed involvement, concealed fireams, and had criminal connections to Senick". But, he said " after the TBI confirmed the presence of DNA, you viewed it as the smoking gun, even though there was evidence pointing in different directions." Agent Miller explained that investigators followed all leads until they ran dry, which they did on everyone except Mooney.

State Prosecutors tried to show Tuesday how that Mooney didn't have enough money to buy drugs from Donald Dillon only a few days before Senick's murder, according to Dillon's testimony, but that in the days after the killing Mooney had as much as $1,200 to buy a car in Murfreesboro. This they believe, implicates Mooney in the theft as charged in the indictment. And since Mooney had talked about selling a nine millimeter pistol, according to Dillon's testimony, prosecutors apparently tried to show that Mooney had access to a weapon and that this may have been the gun used in the killing. No gun was ever produced at trial. And although, according to the autopsy, Senick had died from a single gunshot that passed from back to front through his head, no projectile was ever recovered at the crime scene.

Alan Mooney, a defense witness and Mooney's brother, testified that he and Mooney did have a good source of income at one time, working together doing brick and block work in Murfreesboro. He said they also hauled scrap metal to a salvage yard in Woodbury, making money that way. According to Alan Mooney, there were some weeks when they were cashing $10,000 checks. Mooney said he had not known of his brother's drug activity with Dillon.

Mooney's attorney, Crain claimed there was no evidence to support the state's charges of murder and theft and after the testimony, he filed a motion with the court for a judgment of acquittal, which is a standard procedure by defense attorneys at the conclusion of a trial. He said the state had shown no proof that Mooney had killed or stolen anything from Senick. And the presence of Mooney's DNA at the scene is not proof that he committed a crime there, according to Crain.

Judge Burns overruled Crain's motion and allowed the jury to decide the case.

Smithville Police and TBI Investigating Double Homicide

August 7, 2012
Dwayne Page
Smithville Police Detective Brandon Donnell and TBI Agent

Smithville Police and TBI are investigating a double homicide.

M2U00811 from dwayne page on Vimeo.

Two bodies were found at a residence on Tommy Harrell Street Tuesday afternoon.

Police Chief Randy Caplinger said one body was inside the home. Sources say the other body was found under a pile of debris outside the residence. "We received a 911 call around 2:30 p.m. and officers arrived on the scene," said Chief Caplinger. " At the time we were unsure as to what had happened. We entered the house and found one deceased. During the investigation, we located a second deceased so it turns out to be a double homicide," he said

Police haven't released the names of the victims, pending positive identification and notification of relatives
"We think we know the name of one victim but all the family members have not been notified. We're still investigating and interviewing all the witnesses. We're interviewing family members, neighbors, anyone who can give us information," he said.

"We're being assisted by the TBI, the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department and the Smithville Fire Department has been a great help to us," said Chief Caplinger

No arrests have yet been made. " We're checking into some leads we have but nothing has been confirmed. We're still putting all the information together," according to the chief.

When asked if it was a shooting, Chief Caplinger said "we don't know but that's what we think it is. We're still going through the evidence," he said.

Others assisting in the investigation are the District Attorney General's Office and the Tennessee Bomb and Arson Unit. A special thanks to DeKalb Market and Bumpers Drive-In for providing food for the officers and volunteers at the scene.

City Looks to Simplify Process for Property Rights Voting in November Referendum

August 7, 2012
Dwayne Page
Dennis Stanley

The DeKalb County Election Commission is offering a proposal to the Smithville Mayor and Aldermen that would hopefully make the election process go smoother for city property rights voters in the November

Voters county wide, at all sixteen precincts, will be casting ballots for candidates in the Presidential election along with U.S. Senate and State Representative races in November. But in the City of Smithville, which includes the Courthouse, Middle School, County Complex, and Church of Christ Annex precincts, city voters will also be voting in a referendum on
whether to allow liquor stores in the City of Smithville. Only voters residing inside the city limits and property rights voters, who own property in the city but who live outside the city in DeKalb County and are qualified to vote, will be allowed to cast ballots in this referendum.

Unless the board acts to make the change proposed by the election commission office, approximately 160 property rights voters would likely have to go to two places to vote on election day in November. They would vote at their regular precinct by machine in the county-wide election, and then would have to come to one of the four precincts in Smithville to vote just in the referendum. That referendum vote would likely be on a paper ballot. This process will only apply to property rights voters, those who live outside the city in DeKalb County but who have property inside the
city and are qualified to vote in a city election.

If city property rights voters choose to cast ballots during early voting, they would likely have to come to the courthouse and vote in the county-wide election by machine and then go through the line again to vote by paper ballot just in the city referendum. Again, this process will only apply to property rights voters, those who live outside the city in DeKalb
County but who have property inside the city and are qualified to vote in a city election.

Dennis Stanley, Administrator of Elections, told the mayor and aldermen Monday night that under state law, the city could adopt an ordinance which would allow property rights voters to cast ballots in city elections or city referendums only by paper ballot through the mail. Such an ordinance would have to be adopted on two separate readings, like any ordinance, but this one would have to be approved by September 7 in order for it to go into effect by the November election this year.

Stanley said the city could choose to make this process binding for all future city elections for property rights voters, or it could only be made to apply for this one and only referendum issue in November.

Since no ordinance making such a change has yet been prepared by City Attorney Vester Parsley, the mayor and aldermen have decided to wait until the next meeting to act. If approved on first reading at the August 20th
meeting, a second and final reading would be scheduled following a public hearing at a special meeting the following week.

State law on this issue states that" In the case of individuals who are registered to vote in a municipality as non-resident property owners, the municipal legislative body may, by ordinance, direct such voters to cast the municipal ballots as absentee by mail ballots. Any municipal ordinance adopted pursuant to this section must be adopted and filed with the county election commission office no later than sixty days before the election."

"Upon the filing of the municipal ordinance, a non-resident property owner may not thereafter vote in the election except by absentee ballot. No later than forty five days before the election, the election commission shall mail a notice to each voter registered as a non-resident property owner of the municipality advising the voter of the voting process and
include an application for ballot for the municipal election."

"The election commission shall maintain a record of the municipal ordinance and shall not require a municipality to adopt subsequent ordinances, unless the municipality has repealed such ordinance since the last election".

Smithville to Re-Apply for FEMA Grant Funds to Hire Firefighters

August 7, 2012
Dwayne Page
Fire Chief Charlie Parker (older photo)

The Smithville Aldermen Monday night gave their blessing for the fire department to re-apply for a FEMA Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant, which if approved, would fund the hiring of firefighters for up to two years at no costs to the city.

The aldermen first voted to apply for this grant in March but Fire Chief Charlie Parker said Monday night that the application was not approved. He asked the aldermen to allow him to try again. If approved, the grant would fund salaries and benefits for a certain number of firefighters. The city would be under no obligation to keep funding the positions locally after the grant funds are exhausted.

Chief Parker said while the first application was denied, the city fire department drew favorable comments from FEMA officials.

In a letter to Chief Parker, Elizabeth M. Harman, FEMA Grant Programs Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, wrote that "Each SAFER application was subjected to a two-phase review, with each phase carrying equal weight. The first phase was an automated assessment of how well the application matched the Program's priorities. The second phase was a review by a panel of fire service peers. The panelists assigned scores to four elements of your application narrative: (1) clarity of the project description, (2) demonstration of financial need, (3) impact on daily operations, and (4) realization of cost/benefits. Each of the two phases of the review carried equal weight and each phase was worth 50% of the application's overall score."

"Given the high number of applications received, it is not feasible for us to provide a detailed account of how each individual application was rated in the competitive process," wrote Harman. " However, we can tell you that your application faired reasonably well in the automated assessment and in the second phase, the peer review panel scores indicate that your application was generally good and above average but lacked the level of detail needed to be considered for funding. To help you obtain a higher score in a future SAFER grant request, it is recommended that you review the portion of your application in which you addressed the impact of the grant on daily operations, how the community and current firefighters are at risk without the grant, and to what extent that risk will be reduced if awarded."

"To further improve the competitiveness of future SAFER grant requests, we recommend that you review the part of your application that answered specific questions about your proposed SAFER activity."

The city budgeted $35,000 this year to hire a full time fire department administrator. That position has not yet been filled.

Shay Sullivan Wins Nashville's Women's Municipal Amateur Championship

August 6, 2012
Shay Sullivan Wins Nashville's Women's Municipal Amateur Championship

Rising junior Shay Sullivan won Nashville's 2012 James Fyke Municipal Amateur Women's Championship held this past weekend at the McCabe and Harpeth Hills Golf Courses in Nashville.

Sullivan of Smithville finished with a 36-hole score of 136. She carded a round of 66 on Saturday at McCabe and then posted a 70 on Sunday at Harpeth Hills to clinch the title. Shay finished ahead of second place Allyson Agee and third place finisher and fellow Bruin Evin Edens, who shot 143.

Another Bruin, Morgan McQuary, also competed in the tournament and finished with a two-day score of 156.

Sullivan becomes the third Belmont women's golfer to win the Women's Municipal Amateur title joining Esther Moon in 2005 and Evin Edens in 2011.

Murder Trial in the Death of Bob Senick Resumes Tuesday Morning (UPDATED)

August 6, 2012
Dwayne Page
Richard J. Mooney
Senick Home after Fire in October 2009

A DeKalb County criminal court jury of nine women and five men was seated just before noon and began hearing evidence Monday afternoon in the trial of 34 year old Richard J. Mooney of Watertown, charged with felony murder and theft of property over $1,000 in the October, 2009 death of 63 year old Robert "Bob" Senick, whose remains were found in the rubble of his mobile home near Liberty, which had been burned to the ground.

The indictment, returned by the Grand Jury in November, 2010, alleges that on or about October 7th, 2009, Mooney killed Senick during the perpetration of theft of property and that he did obtain or exercise control over property, to wit: cash and drugs with a value of over $1,000, being the property of Senick.

The charges against Mooney came as the result of an investigation by the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Department of Bomb and Arson, and District Attorney General Randy York and members of his staff.

Sheriff Patrick Ray told WJLE that Mooney is believed to have gone to the Senick home sometime either Tuesday night, October 6th or Wednesday morning, October 7th, 2009; shot Senick in the head; committed the theft; and then set fire to the mobile home.

The mobile home, which belonged to Senick, was located in an isolated area about a mile off the Liberty to Dismal Road.

According to Sheriff Ray, the mobile home had already burned to the ground by the time it was discovered and reported Wednesday morning, October 7th, 2009 at around 9:13 a.m.

Senick's body was later sent to the State Medical Examiner's Office for an autopsy. Dental records confirmed the identity of Senick, whose body was burned beyond recognition during the fire. The autopsy also confirmed that Senick had a gunshot wound to the head.

WJLE was the only news source covering the trial Monday. The following is a summary of the opening statements by the lawyers and the witness testimony so far. State prosecutors in this case are Deputy District Attorney General Gary McKenzie and Assistant D.A. Greg Strong. Mooney's attorney is Joshua Crain of Murfreesboro. The presiding judge is Leon Burns, Jr.

In his opening remarks to the jury, Assistant D.A. Strong said the state would present evidence that Mooney shot and killed Senick and that his home was burned down afterwards; that during the planning of the robbery of Senick, Mooney sought help from another man (Scotty Frankin) but that Franklin refused to participate in the crime; that the day after the murder, Mooney bought an automobile for $1,200 in cash at a car lot in Rutherford County; that DNA testing confirmed blood smears linked to Mooney were found on the exterior of Senick's car, on canopy poles supporting the awning covering Senick's car, and on a knife found on the hood of Senick's car at the crime scene; and that a few days after the murder, Mooney tried to sell a 9 millimeter pistol. Strong told the jury that there was but "one conclusion you can draw from this and that is Mooney killed Senick to rob him of pills and money".

Crain, Mooney's attorney, urged the jury to keep an open mind and open ears, to listen to all the evidence presented, and not "presume" Mooney guilty because he said the state's case is based upon "presumptions". Crain said the jury would not be able to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt that Mooney killed Senick.

The state's first witness was Scotty Franklin of Carthage, a prisoner now serving a twenty year sentence for drug and theft offenses, who had given a statement to TBI agent Billy Miller during the murder investigation, saying that prior to his incarceration and before Senick's death, Mooney had tried to enlist his help in carrying out a plan to rob Senick. Agent Miller had handwritten the statement and Franklin had signed it. But during his testimony Monday, Franklin said he couldn't remember implicating Mooney in the statement to agent Miller nor could he recount the conversation he allegedly had with Mooney about robbing Senick. Franklin also indicated that he was concerned about being labeled a snitch if he testified against Mooney, saying at one point that "if you snitch in prison you'll be dealt with."

James Frazier of Liberty, the first to discover Senick's burned down trailer home, testified that he had picked up a female friend the morning of October 7, 2009 who wanted him to take her to Senick's home to get some pills. But after they arrived and discovered there had been a fire, Frazier said he took her back home and then notified Jerry Wayne Johnson of the fire. Johnson is station commander of the Liberty station of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department.

Johnson testified that after being contacted by Frazier, he drove to the scene, saw that the trailer had burned down, and called 911. Johnson said a car was setting in the driveway near the home and he noticed a hunting knife on the hood. Johnson said a fire department captain soon arrived at the scene and a barricade was erected until law enforcement officers arrived.

Dr. Feng Li, a pathologist testifying for the state medical examiner's office, said that Senick's autopsy revealed that he died of a single gunshot wound to the head. The shot entered on the right side of the head behind the ear and exited on the left side of the cheek bone. Dr. Li said the nature of the wounds indicated that the weapon was probably a handgun, but he could not rule out the possibility that it may have been a rifle or some other long gun. Neither the murder weapon nor the projectile fired from the gun had been recovered. While it was the gunshot that killed Senick, Dr. Li testified that the fire, which was set after the shooting, charred Senick's entire body and that dental comparisons were required to make a positive identification.

Greg Whitaker of the Tennessee Bomb and Arson unit testified that the fire started in the south end of the Senick residence and that all reasonable sources, such as it possibly having started from weather or an electrical problem were ruled out. He said the fire appeared to have been incendiary, induced by a human. Whitaker said that while a K-9 was called to the scene, the dog did not indicate the presence of an accelerent, which often times is used to start a fire, but not always.

TBI agent Billy Miller said swipes of red brownish stains, believed to be human blood were found on two of the poles supporting the canopy or awning covering Senick's 1986 Lincoln Towncar which was parked in the driveway near the burned down trailer home. A hunting knife, inside a sheath, was setting on the hood of Senick's car. Stains, also believed to be human blood were found on the knife and the exterior of the car. Agent Miller said the poles, car, and knife were sent to the TBI Crime lab for testing.

Agent Miller testified that during the course of the investigation, he learned that Scotty Franklin, a prisoner, had some information about the case and was willing to give a statement. Miller said he met with Franklin on December 1, 2009 and took a statement from him. Prior to his incarceration, Franklin apparently had been approached by Mooney about helping him rob Senick. Agent Miller said Franklin did not appear to be under the influence of any drug or intoxicant while giving the statement.

After identifying Mooney as a suspect, Agent Miller said he met with him on November 12, 2009. When questioned about the killing, Mooney told Miller that he would not admit to anything, saying that he lived by the code not to talk to the police. According to Agent Miller, Mooney said it had been at least a month or more prior to Senick's death since he had been to Senick's home.

Almost ten months later Agent Miller obtained a search warrant to collect a DNA sample from Mooney. Miller met with Mooney on September 2, 2010 and asked him to give a sample voluntarily. Agent Miller testified that Mooney initially refused. But when Miller told Mooney that he had already obtained a search warrant and that a DNA sample could be taken involuntarily, Mooney agreed to a Buccal Swab, in which the inside of the mouth is gently rubbed with a cotton swab to collect cells for DNA testing.

When the trial resumes Tuesday morning, Agent Miller will be back on the witness stand with Mooney's attorney having his turn at asking questions.

The state still has several more witnesses to call. After the state rests, Mooney's attorney can then put on his defense. The trial is expected to go through Wednesday.

If convicted as charged, Mooney could be facing a life prison sentence.


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