Four days after the death of a Maryville police officer, the man accused of shooting him made his first court appearance.
A number of law enforcement officials, including Blount County Sheriff James Berrong, stood in the back of the courtroom as Brian K. Stalans appeared briefly in Blount County General Sessions Court Monday. The entire arraignment lasted less than two minutes.
Judge William Brewer found Stalans, 44, indigent, meaning he can’t afford to hire an attorney, and appointed the Public Defender’s Office to represent him.
Brewer also set a preliminary hearing date of Sept. 15. At that appearance, the judge will decide whether there is probable cause for the charges against Stalans to proceed. If he finds that there is, the judge will bind the charges over to a grand jury.
Stalans faces five charges, including criminal homicide, in the shooting death of Maryville police officer Kenny Moats. Moats, 32, died of a single gunshot wound to the neck after responding to a domestic violence situation at Stalans’ home on Thursday, Aug. 25. That day happened to be Stalans’ 44th birthday.
Stalans also faces four counts of aggravated assault.
After the arraignment, he returned to the Blount County Detention Facility, where he is being held on $1.5 million bail.
Mack Garner is the Public Defender appointed to represent Stalans. Garner has been the elected public defender in Blount County since 1990.
Following the arraignment, Garner told 10News he had just met with Stalans for the first time. They only spoke for a few minutes, but Garner said he plans to meet with his client again Wednesday morning.
"As far as we know, Mr. Stalans has never been in any trouble, but one thing we always do in serious charges is to talk to him, to find out has he ever been hospitalized? Has he ever suffered from any emotional problems? Again, I don't know the answer to any of these questions yet, but we will be exploring them,” Garner said.
Stalans has been charged with criminal homicide, but it will be up to the grand jury to decide which level of charge to seek.
“Even if it’s clear, and I don’t know whether it is or not, but even if it’s clear that the shot fired by him caused this officer’s death, the question is going to be under what circumstances did it happen and to what degree? You know, what is my client guilty of?” Garner said.
The Blount County Grand Jury meets once a month on the first Monday of the month, so the earliest they could hear this case following his preliminary hearing in mid-September is early October.
“This charge is an unspecified criminal homicide. That is anything from first degree capital murder to second degree murder to voluntary manslaughter to negligent homicide,” Garner said. “Until we know what the facts are, we don’t even know for sure what grade of homicide the grand jury is going to charge him with. So even if he’s guilty of a homicide, the question is what grade is it? How severe is it?”
The most severe charge the grand jury could indict on is capital murder. If that is the charge, then the Blount County Attorney General’s Office will be able to file notice if they are seeking the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Knoxville Criminal Defense Attorney Ann Short explained that there are certain circumstances where prosecutors can seek the death penalty under Tennessee law.
“A homicide committed against a law enforcement officer while he or she is performing their duties qualifies as one of those situations,” she said.
Short said seeking the death penalty is a decision that prosecutors take very seriously.
"We certainly have had executions in the state of Tennessee. They have been few and long periods of time have gone by in between. That is something, again, no one in this state takes lightly,” she said.
If Stalans is indicted, the judge will set another court hearing where Stalans will enter a formal plea of guilty or not guilty.
That’s also when the defense and prosecution will be able to enter motions, such as a motion for a change of venue for the trial.
Garner said it’s possible he will request a change of venue for the case.
“This case has gotten so much publicity, it is possible that that will have to happen, I don’t know yet,” he said.
As for when a trial will take place, Garner said he expects it wouldn’t be before spring or summer of 2017, at the earliest.