Guns, drugs, hidden camera fuel Feds' case against Houston bros

10:28 AM, Jan 15, 2013   |    comments
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Video: In Depth: Don Bosch discusses Houston brothers' charges

  • Leon Houston, Rocky Houston
  • Rocky Houston
  • Leon Houston
    

Brothers Rocky Houston and Leon Houston of Roane County made separate appearances in U.S. District Court in Knoxville on federal gun charges Monday. The two were taken into custody by U.S. Marshalls this weekend, but the reasons for their arrests were sealed until Monday's initial court appearance.

Rocky Houston, 52, is charged with being a convicted felon in possession of firearms. The 54-year-old Leon Houston is charged with possessing guns while using illegal drugs.

Both Rocky and Leon face the same maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison, up to $250,000 fine, and up to three years supervised release.

Houstons' History

The Houston brothers are no strangers to court. For more than a decade the duo have faced various criminal charges and subsequently filed lawsuits against government officials that claim they are the victims of persecution. The two brothers were tried but not convicted of murder after a deadly shootout on the family's property that killed a Roane County Sheriff's Office deputy and a friend of the deputy who was riding in the vehicle.

The Houston family property in Ten Mile features several billboards in the front yard outlining their claims of corruption and treason by various judges and members of law enforcement. It may have been these billboards that reignited a search for criminal charges that would stick against Rocky Houston. At the end of August 2012, the billboards stirred emotions by displaying the prosecution's photographic evidence of the victims fatally shot. The photographs were also posted to Facebook by someone who claimed to be a friend of the Houstons.

A little more than a month after the billboard episode, Federal ATF agents began an investigation that led to the current charges against Rocky and Leon Houston. On October 9, 2012, agents installed a camera on a public utility pole beside the Houston's property to investigate claims that Rocky Houston was in illegal possession of firearms. Rocky Houston was convicted of a felony for evading arrest a couple of years ago, which means he cannot legally own or use firearms.

ATF's Rocky Picture Show

The affidavit in Rocky Houston's case cites videos evidence of Rocky Houston in possession of a firearm between the dates of October 11, 2012, and October 25, 2012.

On October 11, Rocky was observed holding a high-powered rifle with Leon and two other men while they held target practice in the front yard. The affidavit does not say if Rocky actually fired the weapon that day. On October 15, the affidavit claims Rocky was observed walking outside the house with a rifle slung over his shoulder. On October 20, the camera captured footage of Rocky outside the Houston family farm house "standing guard" with a rifle while Leon "trimmed tree limbs." Later that day "Rocky Houston was observed target shooting in the front yard" with Leon and other unknown individuals. The affidavit cites three other instances where Rocky was observed with guns, including twice with a handgun.

Leon's Firearms and "Wacky Tobacco"

Leon Houston has not been convicted of a felony and can legally own guns. The reason he faces charges is because you cannot legally possess guns while using illegal drugs.

When ATF agents arrived to search the Houston's property after arresting Rocky, court documents indicate Leon Houston drove "a four-wheeler at a very fast pace" across a pasture towards the agents "armed with two rifles and a handgun, all of which were loaded." The affidavit goes on to say, "When Leon Houston saw many law enforcement agents with firearms aimed at him, he stopped his approach and was subdued by agents."

ATF agent Jason Dobbs wrote that during a lengthy interview, Leon said he had "been getting high," "getting drunk," and referenced "wacky tobacco." Agents found marijuana-smoking paraphernalia, marijuana residue, and "a heavy odor indicating recent marijuana use within the trailer."

Making Federal Cases

The affidavits indicate the crimes qualify for federal prosecution because they involve firearms that were not made in-state. Dobbs wrote in Leon's affidavit, "the firearms in question here were not manufactured in the state of Tennessee, and therefore traveled in interstate commerce to be found in the state of Tennessee."

Monday morning, Rocky Houston's case did not make much progress during Monday morning's initial hearing. Rocky refused to proceed with any part of the hearing based on a perceived conflict of interest with presiding judge Bruce Guyton. Rocky Houston repeatedly shouted that the conflict of interests was a violation of his Constitutional rights and that Guyton should recuse himself. Guyton repeatedly refused to recuse himself, explained those concerns expressed by Houston are handled at a different type of hearing, and attempted to move the initial appearance forward. The end-result was the charge against Rocky was read, but he was not appointed a lawyer and returned to jail without a set detention hearing. The next hearings for Rocky Houston are yet to be scheduled as of Monday night.

Leon Houston's initial appearance at 3:00 Monday afternoon was a much quieter and quick event. Leon said he understood the charges, accepted a court-appointed lawyer, and scheduled a preliminary hearing and detention hearing for 9:30 a.m. this Friday. Leon also cited a potential conflict of interests with Guyton, but agreed to raise those concerns at a future hearing.

In a press release, U.S. Attorney Bill Killian expressed his appreciation to the agents of ATF and the officers from the Roane, Knox and Loudon County Sheriffs' Offices for their participation in the successful execution of these warrants. "Our commitment of cooperation and support from our federal law enforcement agencies to our state and local colleagues is strong. It will remain so," wrote Killian.

Reporter's note:  This article contains two attached videos.  The second video is of Knoxville attorney and Inside Tennessee panelist Don Bosch from our 10News at 5 PM broadcast.  Bosch explains his opinions on the charges against the Houstons and what he deems realistic possibilities for penalties if convicted.  Mobile users may not be able to view this video within this article, but may navigate to the video section of the mobile site or visit the full website to see the clip.

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