Attorney seeks dismissal of murder case after grand jury fails to re-indict woman
Published 7:44 am Thursday, September 24, 2015
An attorney for an Elizabethton woman charged with child neglect and first-degree murder in the death of her young son said he has filed motion asking for the case against her to be dismissed after a grand jury failed to return an indictment during a re-presentment of the case.
On Oct. 11, 2012, 4-year-old Joshua Holston was struck by a dump truck in a crosswalk at the intersection of Broad Street and Lynn Avenue and died as a result of his injures.
One month later, his mother, Tiffani Marie Holston, 30, was indicted on charges of aggravated child neglect and first-degree murder. Under state law, a person can be charged with first-degree murder if someone died while they were committing a felony crime. In this case, the state used the felony charge of aggravated child neglect as the basis for the first-degree murder charge.
In January 2013, the case was returned to a grand jury after the indictment was contested in court by Assistant Public Defender Melanie Sellers, who represented Holston at that time. Sellers asserted the indictment did not clearly articulate how Holston had allegedly committed the act of aggravated child abuse but only alleged that she had.
That grand jury also returned an indictment charging Holston with aggravated child neglect and first-degree murder. Sellers challenged that indictment on the same grounds. She filed a motion seeking the dismissal of the re-indictment and a motion asking the court to file an order for the District Attorney’s Office to file a Bill of Particulars outlining what offense it claims Holston committed.
“The re-indictment does not state such facts and circumstances as would constitute the offense of aggravated child neglect or first-degree murder, but merely states a legal result of conclusion,” Sellers said in the motion. “The re-indictment in this case does not enable a person of common understanding to know what is intended, nor does it give the defendant notice of the facts sought to be proved against her and what offenses she is being called up to answer.”
Sellers noted that defendants have a constitutional right under the Sixth Amendment to know the nature of the accusation against them and said the re-indictment did not provide that information.
The court granted both of Sellers’ motions and dismissed the re-indictment.
In the Bill of Particulars, the state asserts that Holston “neglected her 4-year-old child, Joshua Christopher Holston, by failing to supervise or control the child at the intersection of Broad Street and Lynn Avenue in Elizabethton and thus resulted in harm to said child.”
The case was presented to a grand jury for a third time earlier this month by Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks. This time, the grand jury returned a “No True Bill,” which means the grand jury did not find enough evidence in the presentment to support the requested charges.
Don Spurrell, who now represents Holston, said he has filed a motion asking for the case against Holston be dismissed on the basis that no indictment was returned by the grand jury.
“He presents the case to the grand jury and asks them to charge her with this ridiculous crime,” Spurrell said. “He didn’t just take the child neglect allegations back, he took the murder charge as well, this time to a different grand jury, and he basically got his butt kicked.”
According to court records, while the re-indictment was dismissed by the judge, no decision was made by the court regarding the dismissal of the original indictment, which is still the basis for the open case.
Spurrell argues in his motion for dismissal that because the grand jury reviewed the whole case and not just the child neglect allegation, the action taken by the most recent grand jury supersedes any previous actions taken by previous grand juries.
“In this cause, the district attorney chose to re-submit its entire case for re-review, after additional facts have come to light and after a period of sober community reflect, and this grand jury has chosen not to indict,” Spurrell said in his motion. “The district attorney serves the people of this state and this community and should expect to accept the actions of this grand jury, which clearly was in a better position to sort through the case of its maturity, and not when emotions and unfounded accusations were at a fever pitch.”
Those “unfounded accusations” which surrounded the case in the early stages dealt with what his client was doing at the time of the accident, Spurrell said.
“Early on they said she was under the influence, which she was not and we have proof,” Spurrell said, adding the state has since abandoned that theory. “Then they said she was on her cell phone but she was not, we have her phone records.”
Now that Spurrell has filed a motion seeking dismissal, the state will have to file a response and then the court will hold a hearing on the issue. Spurrell said he expects the court to take quick action on the matter because the case is currently set for trial Oct. 13.