A Union County judge said he's not convinced an apparent tryst between a key state witness and the lead investigator in a murder case constitutes the need for a retrial of a woman serving a 17-year prison sentence.
"Concluding that the tawdriness of the relationship would have impacted the jury verdict requires rank speculation without some substantive showing of change, which has not been made," Judge Shayne Sexton wrote in an opinion filed Friday.
"Had the information been timely disclosed and made an issue at trial, the weight of the evidence produced by the prosecution would have strongly supported the verdict rendered by the jury and certainly outweighed the negative influence raised by the information."
Defense attorney T. Scott Jones said Friday he looks forward to appealing the decision on behalf of Shannon Smith to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.
Smith, 48, is in a Tennessee prison for the second-degree murder of husband Tim Smith, 46, during a fight outside their Union County home in July 2017.
A Union County jury convicted her in March 2019 of the killing.
After her conviction, the newly hired Jones learned that Shannon Smith's niece, Amanda Atchley, had had a summer fling in 2018 with Randy Summers, a Union County Sheriff's Office detective and one of the lead investigators in Tim Smith's killing.
When Atchley testified for the state at Smith's trial, no one disclosed that she had had sex several times with Summers, Jones argued. That was relevant information that could have been used during the trial against the state, Jones said.
Jurors also should have known about details from Summers' past life as an alcohol commission agent, the attorney said.
Jones' investigation showed that Summers previously had been a state Alcoholic Beverage Commission agent but had lost his job after having sex with a woman in 2014 that he and another agent met at a Cleveland, Tenn., restaurant.
The ABC's chief wrote in a subsequent 2015 letter that Summers' credibility had been called into question, not to mention his ability to take part in future criminal cases.
In his ruling this week, Sexton didn't address the newly discovered ABC information calling into question Summers' character and integrity.
Jones argued his case in April before the judge seeking either a new trial for Smith or a complete dismissal of the charges. Eighth Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler countered that the prosecution already had enough evidence to convict Smith and that the undisclosed relationship between Summers and Atchley didn't rise to the level requiring a new trial.
Sexton agreed with the prosecution.
It's true that the defense didn't know about the past relationship between Summers and Atchley, the judge wrote. But so what? the judge concluded in essence.
"In determining the materiality of the information, this court is asked to engage in what is largely conjecture on how the presentation of the nondisclosed information would affect the outcome of the trial," Sexton wrote this week.
"Reviewing the April 15 testimony, neither witness revealed any communication about the homicide investigation to one another. The sole contact between the witnesses was service of the trial subpoena by Summers to Atchley.
"This information, once elicited to the jury, would have minimal impact on the outcome of the case."