Woman charged in Oliver Springs lesbian killing to go to trial

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OAK RIDGE – An Anderson County grand jury has handed down a two-count indictment against Melissa Ann Layman, 35, for charges related to the 2003 death of Ginger Renea Powers.

Layman, previously of Oliver Springs , is charged with alternative counts of involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide. The two were involved in an intimate relationship according to Tennessee Appeals Court documents.

The two resided at a home on Pine Lane in Oliver Springs, when, on July 7, 2003, an argument and a physical altercation led to the death of Powers. In papers related to the pretrial diversion as part of a plea agreement between Layman and the Anderson County Attorney General’s Office, Layman describes the struggle that culminated in Powers’ death, “I started struggling with her and we fell off the bed still fighting . . . [.] As we rolled around the floor fighting my hand touched a cord that was lying in the floor. I grabbed the cord and it went around her neck. We continued to struggle and then she was just still.”

Layman reportedly told the police that during the fight “she grabbed over at a lamp cord and put that cord around the deceased’s neck. And after this fight, the deceased was motionless and was dead.”

Autopsy results showed facial and nasal trauma with pooling of blood in the upper respiratory tract. Possibly due to decomposition of the body, indications of strangulation such as ligature marks were not present. Official results indicated death by asphyxiation.

Based on this testimony, the presiding judge, James B. “Buddy” Scott, Jr., refused to accept the plea arrangement. Judge Scott will soon retire after 27 years on the bench, and his recent tendency to refuse plea agreements in death cases is based on his opinion that they are “contrary to the manifest public interest” and, in fact, against the law. The agreement would have included no jail time.

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Scott’s ruling after Layman requested a review and dismissal of the lower court’s findings. Tennessee Appeals Court Judge David G. Hayes, Jr., delivered the decision, and was joined by Jerry L. Smith with James Curwood Witt, Jr., concurring. As a result, Layman will go to trial in Anderson County for the charges related to the Powers death.

In the meantime, Layman’s home in Lenoir City has been the site of yet another death. According to the Oak Ridger, Jennifer Hope Conatser, 30, was found dead in the home at 300 E. First St. , which she shared with Layman and a 15-year-old boy. The victim died of an apparent gunshot wound to the head. Reports further indicate that the weapon involved was a .22 caliber handgun.

The case is set for trial in Loudon County . Details will be forthcoming as soon as they are available.