Judge denies request for new trial in vehicular homicide case

Published 4:52 pm Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Butler man convicted of vehicular homicide will not receive a new trial or a new attorney after the judge presiding over the case denied his requests during a hearing on Monday.

Jerry Ray Oaks, 35, of Piercetown Road, Butler, was found guilty by a Carter County jury of vehicular homicide by intoxication following a two-day trial in August of this year. The charge against Oaks stems from a motor vehicle accident on February 13, 2016, which claimed the life of Viencen Hitechew, 47, of Roan Mountain.

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During a sentencing hearing on Sept. 25, Criminal Court Judge Lisa Nidiffer Rice denied a request by Oaks that he be granted probation as a form of alternative sentencing for his conviction. Under state law, vehicular homicide by intoxication is categorized as a “Class B Felony,” which meant Oaks faced a possible sentence ranging between 3 and 30 years under state sentencing guidelines. At the hearing, Rice sentenced Oaks to serve 16 years in prison. Due to his prior record, Oaks was classified by the court as a “Multiple” offender, which means he will have to serve a minimum of 35 percent of his sentence before being eligible for parole.

In October, Oaks’ attorney, Assistant Public Defender Wesley K. Taylor, filed a motion with the court seeking a new trial for his client claiming the court had made errors regarding both the admission and suppression of evidence.

In the motion, Taylor states the court committed an error by allowing in test results from a blood alcohol test performed on his client without a warrant. He also alleges the court erred by not allowing the defense to present evidence regarding a portion of a report by a Tennessee Highway Patrol crash reconstruction expert or evidence regarding the presence of alcohol or drugs in Hitechew’s system at the time of the crash.

Taylor also argues in the motion that the evidence presented at trial was “insufficient to support a finding of guilt in the case” and the court erred in approving the verdict.

During a court hearing on Monday, Rice heard arguments from Taylor and the State regarding the motion and subsequently denied the request for a new trial.

Prior to the hearing on Monday, the court received a motion filed by Oaks on his own asking for the court to remove the Public Defender’s Office as his appointed legal counsel and to appoint him a new attorney to replace Taylor on the case.

Rice denied the pro se motion by Oaks and informed him that if he would like to retain private counsel on his own he was free to do so, but since there was no conflict with the Public Defender’s Office representing Oaks no new counsel would be appointed by the court.

If Oaks chooses to appeal his conviction, the denial of a motion for a new trial, or the court’s denial of his pro se motion seeking new counsel he will now have to pursue those matters through the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.