Court appoints new attorney for Azotea in double murder case

Published 9:22 am Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye  Eric Azotea, at left, is escorted out of Criminal Court following a hearing on Tuesday morning.

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye
Eric Azotea, at left, is escorted out of Criminal Court following a hearing on Tuesday morning.

A Carter County man charged with two murders was appointed a new attorney Tuesday during a court hearing.
Eric Azotea, 44, of the Pinecrest community, appeared in Carter County Criminal Court on Tuesday for a hearing and status update on the case against him. Azotea is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of abuse of a corpse and one count of tampering with evidence in connection with the murder and dismemberment of a Sullivan County couple in January 2015.
In September, Judge Stacy Street granted a request from the District Attorney General Tony Clark seeking to have attorney Steve Finney removed from Azotea’s defense team. Because the state has filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty in the case, state law requires that Azotea, who was declared indigent by the court, have two court-appointed attorneys to help him mount his defense against the charges.
In his motion asking to remove Finney as one of Azotea’s attorneys, Clark said it is the state’s position that a conflict of interest exists with Finney representing Azotea. Finney was previously employed by the District Attorney General’s Office as an Assistant District Attorney. During his tenure with the office, Finney served as the state’s prosecuting attorney against Azotea on charges of carjacking and robbery, Clark said in the motion, adding those previous convictions are included as aggravating factors in the state’s intent to seek the death penalty.
Following Street’s ruling to remove Finney from the defense team, Finney’s co-counsel Gene Scott requested the court allow him to appeal the ruling.
On Tuesday, Scott told the court he no longer intends to pursue an appeal on the ruling. Scott said he had met with Finney and Azotea and they decided to instead ask the court to appoint new co-counsel.
Street named Scott as lead counsel on the case and said he had received Scott’s request to name attorney Dan Smith as co-counsel.
“This court is very aware of Mr. Smith’s work as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee out of Greeneville,” Street said, adding Smith had also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Texas and Louisiana. “The court finds that Mr. Smith is more than qualified to serve as co-counsel.”
Street said he would appoint Smith as co-counsel contingent upon Smith completing a special training that is required for attorneys working on a death penalty case.
“Despite all that experience, capital cases are extremely different,” Street said, adding the training would prepare Smith for nuances particular to death penalty cases.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Street set the trial dates for Azotea’s case for Sept. 11, 2017 through Sept. 23, 2017. Street also scheduled a motions hearing for the case on Jan. 25 and requested that all motions to be heard on that date be filed at least a week in advance.

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