Focus on justice issues at Knox area Heritage Night 2005

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by David Shuler
Staff Writer

KNOXVILLE – Heritage Night kicked off the 2005 Pride celebration in Knoxville . More than 100 people gathered at the Candy Factory on the World’s Fair site to hear discussion of questions around the issue of GLBT justice.

A panel discussion moderated by Ina Hughs of the Knoxville News-Sentinel focused on questions surrounding criminal justice and family law relevant to the GLBT community. The panel consisted of Tom Barr, Coordinator of the Do mestic Violence Unit for the Knoxville Police Department; Attorney William Mynatt Jr.; Kath Anderson of the Knox County Attorney General’s office; Sharon Stevens, Victim/Witness Coordinator also with the Knox County Attorney General’s office; John Gill, Jr., Special Prosecutor with that same office; and Annette Beebe from the GLBTQ Task Force Against Domestic Violence.

Questions to the panel ranged from concerns regarding same-sex domestic violence, same-sex marriage, and drug use in the GLBT community especially with regard to usage of crystal meth, to the safe schools program. The majority of the questions answered by the panel concerned the murder of Joe Camber, Knoxville GLBT activist and former President of Knoxville Cares, Inc.

After the April 2002 slaying of Camber, Conyers pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for reducing a second-degree murder charge. Judge Richard Baumgartner then sentenced him to 4 years prison time suspended due to judicial diversion and imposed instead a 15-year probationary period.

Conyers was subsequently charged with probation violation after he was charged with as a “peeping tom” during a police sting at a local shopping mall in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he resides. He was found guilty on the probation violation charge, however the Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals overturned Baumgartner’s ruling in that case. His case is now again in Knox County Criminal Court Division I jurisdiction.

Audience questions regarding the practice of reducing murder charges as part of a plea bargaining arrangement were directed to John Gill who answered in the affirmative, but gave specific reasons that would make that more likely to occur.

“Yes, if there isn’t enough evidence to make the charge hold up in court, then we’ll plead down to a lesser charge that we can get. That way it won’t go to trial and have the judge throw it out,” explained Gill.

Chad Conyers was placed on probation under a ruling that entailed several conditions requiring the services of a probation officer.

According to the Knox County Attorney General’s office, the state of Virginia refuses to acknowledge court ordered judicial diversion origination outside their state. Therefore, Conyers is by default on unsupervised judicial diversion.

Further conditions require that Conyers must provide proof of counseling, employment, and residence on a monthly basis. In addition, he must appear every six months in the Knox County Attorney General’s office.

“Conyers had been sending in his monthly reports,” said Sharon Stevens.

The reports stopped in April 2005 pending an appellate court ruling regarding the probation violation. This common practice allows for anticipation of changes to the conditions of probation mandated by the higher courts opinion.

Finally, in March 2005 a ruling by Appeals Court Judge David H. Welles, overturned the previous ruling by Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner. Conyers was then placed on judicial diversion as originally ordered.

According to Stevens, Conyers is now supposed to be back on track to serve the diversion and begin abiding by the terms of his probation. Those conditions dictate that he must provide proof of employment, residence, and ongoing counseling along with personal appearance in the Knox County District Attorney’s office every six months.

If Conyers meets the conditions of his probation, he is eligible for a complete eradication of his conviction in this matter. This process known as “expungement” is a process by which the record of criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed. Conyers may qualify in the year 2018.

A reception catered by Terry Korom, former owner of the Crescent Moon Café, followed the panel discussion.

Guests were treated to a poster display depicting the history of Knoxville ’s GLBT nightlife over the last four decades. The posters were offered courtesy of Brian Hingerty.