Attorneys seek to suppress confession, disqualify DA in murder case

Published 2:45 pm Monday, May 29, 2017

Attorneys for a man charged with two counts of first degree murder are seeking to suppress statements the man made to investigators and asking the court to disqualify the District Attorney General’s Office from prosecuting the case claiming members of that office are necessary witnesses in the case.

Attorney’s for Eric James Azotea, 45, of the Pinecrest community, filed a motion this month suppression of statements Azotea gave to investigators both before and after he was formally charged. Azotea faces two counts of first degree murder, two counts of abuse of a corpse, and one count of tampering with or fabricating evidence in connection with the 2015 deaths of Art Gibson and Amber Terrell.

In the motion, Azotea’s attorneys — Gene Scott and Dan Smith —claim that during questioning, Azotea told investigators he wanted to speak to an attorney and while investigators said they would attempt to get an attorney for Azotea they continued to speak with him.

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“The Defendant asserts that law enforcement communicated his request for an attorney to the District Attorney’s Office. It is further assoerted that attorneys with the District Attorney’s Office contacted this Court seeking appointment of counsel for the defendant,” the motion for suppression states. “The court declined and instead directed them to contact the Public Defender. Jeff Kelly, the Public Defender, was agreeable but indicated he could not be involved unless his office was appointed to represent the defendant. Subsequently, the District Attorney’s Office contacted Mr. Kelly informing him the issue was moot.”

Azotea’s attorneys allege that not only did investigators continue to speak with Azotea after he requested an attorney but that staff from the District Attorney’s Office instructed the investigators as to how to proceed when speaking with Azotea after his request for counsel. In doing so, the motion contends, the investigators and District Attorney’s Office violated Azotea’s Fifth Amendment Right against self-incrimination and also his Sixth Amendment Right to legal counsel.

The motion filed by Azotea’s attorneys seeking to disqualify the District Office from prosecuting the case is based upon the circumstances outlined in the motion to suppress Azotea’s statements to investigators.

In the motion, Azotea’s attorneys ask the Court “to disqualify District Attorney General Tony Clark and his entire office from the prosecution of this case because members of the office are necessary witnesses in the case.

“The Defendant believes that law enforcement did communicate his request for an attorney to the District Attorney’s Office and that at least two members of the District Attorney’s Office staff, as well as General Clark, are witnesses in this case, as they attempted to secure counsel for the Defendant for the purpose of obtaining a confession and advised law enforcement in how to proceed after the Defendant invoked his right to counsel,” the motion states. The motion states that Clark and his staff are necessary witnesses at a hearing on the motion to suppress as well as at trial should the court allow Azotea’s statements to be admitted into evidence.

In the State’s response to the motions filed by Azotea’s attorneys, Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks states while Azotea asked for a lawyer at one point in the interview he later revoked that request and expressed his desire to negotiate a deal with investigators and prosecutors for his confession.

According to the State’s response, Azotea told investigators he would give them a statement in exchange for immunity from prosecution for his girlfriend, Kristen Jones. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Brian Fraley reportedly told Azotea that only someone from the District Attorney’s Office could grant immunity and that investigators could not speak with him regarding the case since he had requested to speak with an attorney, according to the State’s response.

After that exchange, the State claims in its motion that the recording of the interview with Azotea will show he rescinded his request for an attorney and agreed to provide a statement as long as Jones was granted immunity.

In the response, Brooks said he met with Azotea and hand wrote an agreement promising immunity to Jones in exchange for truthful cooperation from Azotea, which he said Azotea then signed.

The State said Azotea then gave a statement to investigators detailing information about the deaths of Gibson and Terrell including information regarding his attempts to dismember and burn their bodies.

Azotea is scheduled to appear in Carter County Criminal Court on June 1 for a motions hearing in his case.