x
Breaking News
More () »

Knoxville Breaking News, Weather, Traffic, Sports | WBIR.com

Secrets come to light: Revelations of affair in Union Co. murder case spur lawyer to seek retrial

Shannon Smith was convicted of murder in March 2019. A niece who testified against her now says she had sex with one of the lead investigators.

MAYNARDVILLE, Tenn. — When she took the stand to testify at her aunt’s 2019 murder trial, Amanda Atchley didn’t mention she’d had sex with one of the lead investigators in the case.

Few people, it appears, knew the Union County woman had had sex -- four times, by her count -– with Union County Sheriff’s Office Detective Randy Summers during the summer of 2018.

The lawyer representing murder defendant Shannon Smith certainly didn’t know it. The prosecution apparently didn’t know it either.

RELATED: Jury finds Andersonville woman guilty of murdering her husband

But that information could lead to Smith, 47, now an inmate serving 17 years in a West Tennessee prison, getting a new trial.

"This is not going to be good," Atchley, 35, told a TBI agent in May 2020 as the affair came to light. "This is not going to be good at all."

Lawyer T. Scott Jones of Knoxville wouldn’t mind if the entire case against Smith was thrown out. He's representing the inmate today in her bid for a retrial.

In his decades of representing people accused of a crime, he said he’s never seen anything like the Smith case.

"It undermines our confidence in the foundations of the justice system," he said. "If we don't have the ability to believe, if you will, that our prosecutors and that our police are pursuing things with the highest moral standards, then we begin to question the foundations of our justice system."

District Attorney General Jared Effler said this week he was ethically prohibited from commenting about the pending appeal.

Based on information Jones has just gotten from TBI interviews, the lawyer last month filed his third motion for a new trial for Shannon Smith. A Nov. 9 hearing date had been set before Judge Shayne Sexton in Union County.

But following the revelation about Atchley’s reported tryst with Summers, that date was canceled and a new one has not yet been set.

Summers, in an interview also in May with the TBI, acknowledged spending time with Atchley the summer before Shannon Smith's trial. But he said he never had sex with her. And he said he never discussed specific information with her about the murder investigation.

WBIR reached out but didn't initially hear back from the detective. He sent a message Saturday.

"This is a sad attempt to free a convicted murderer. I have conducted myself professionally for  two decades of law enforcement. I have helped many victims and helped secure many convictions over the course of my career. These accusations are appalling. They are disrespectful and embarrassing to myself and my family. They (my family) are the truly innocent ones who are being punished as a result of this story," the email reads.

Summers wrote that he's confident Shannon Smith's conviction will be upheld.

 WBIR tried contacting Atchley but the phone number was no longer in service.

KILLING OF TIM SMITH

There’s no question Shannon Smith shot her husband to death. It’s just a question of why.

Credit: TDOC
Shannon L. Smith, a Tennessee inmate serving a 17-year sentence for her husband's murder.

She shot him in the face outside their home July 23, 2017, on Highway 61 West in Andersonville. She recorded the incident. She reported that he’d battered her.

He'd wanted to leave her, according to court testimony. She'd snooped in his social media posts, the state alleged.

His obituary noted that, “He enjoyed riding 4 wheelers and being Papaw to his grandchildren.”

The family, including Atchley and Shannon Smith, gathered four days later for the funeral service in Maynardville.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Union County authorities began an investigation. Randy Summers was lead investigator for the county; Special Agent Nick Brown worked on behalf of the TBI.

"The most important thing here is that Shannon Smith shot her husband to death to prevent him from leaving her," Summers wrote to WBIR. "She is the criminal. I wish I could be more in depth, however this is an ongoing legal matter and I cannot disclose any details."

A couple weeks later, Aug. 8, 2017, a Union County grand jury indicted Shannon Smith on a count of second-degree murder.

It wasn't until about a year later that Atchley came forward and told the TBI’s Brown about something she'd heard her Aunt Shannon say after the killing.

Credit: DA's Office
8th Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler

It happened at Tim Smith’s funeral service.

Atchley said that as she tried to comfort the grieving woman, Shannon Smith put her head on Atchley's shoulder, looked directly into her face and said, "I wasn't going to let him leave again. It wasn't going to happen."

The recollection helped buttress the state's case that Smith wasn't a battered woman so much as a jealous wife intent on stopping her husband at a moment when he was ready to walk away.

Atchley's mother, the victim's sister, had also heard Smith make a similar admission.

Both women ended up taking the stand to share what they'd heard when prosecutors with the 8th Judicial District tried Smith in March 2019. Jurors spent about three hours deliberating before finding Smith guilty as charged.

Judge Sexton sentenced Smith to 17 years in prison. She's serving that time now at the state prison in Henning, Tenn.

While Atchley ended up coming forward in 2018 to tell authorities about that moment with her aunt, she didn't mention something that had happened just a few months before: her alleged intimate relationship with the Union County investigator.

As she has now admitted to the TBI in a May 2020 interview, she had a brief affair with Summers in the summer of 2018 while taking care of her dad. Not only did she have sex with the detective, but she said she communicated with him and another deputy repeatedly in the heat of that relationship.

'WE'RE ABOUT TO GO DOWN A WEIRD STREET'

Jones didn't represent Smith at her 2019 trial. Veteran Knoxville attorney Robert L. Jolley handled that.

Credit: WBIR
TBI Special Agent Michael O'Keefe discusses the body found in March 2019 along Douglas Lake in Jefferson County.

If Jolley had known anything at all about what Atchley says now happened between her and the Union County detective, he could have used that to attack her credibility and the state's case.

She was a key witness for the state. She helped prove the state's theory that Shannon Smith acted with premeditation.

But Jolley didn't know about the relationship.

When asked to comment by WBIR, Jolley referred to an affidavit he signed as part of Shannon Smith's retrial bid.

Attorney Jones didn't know it either -- at first. As he began working on Smith's behalf in pursuit of a retrial, he started having suspicions.

First, he learned that another Union County officer, Eddie Simpson, had had a flurry of traffic on his phone -- texts and calls -- with a number that turned out to be Atchley's. Simpson's then-wife, Kandi, had spotted the high volume and smelled something funny.

When she confronted Simpson, he said the texts weren't his doing. He said Summers had been using his phone to communicate with Atchley, an affidavit from Kandi Simpson states.

Jones knew Kandi Simpson. And soon he had a lead on something that looked quite curious.

Jones told authorities what he'd discovered. TBI stepped in to conduct an independent review.

On May 5, after dodging numerous attempts at being reached, Atchley sat down with TBI Special Agent Michael O'Keefe for a recorded interview.

WBIR has listened to the recorded interview, and Jones has submitted a transcript of it to the court, along with interviews with Summers, now 40, and Simpson, 37, as part of his bid to win Shannon Smith a new trial.

"I don't want to be involved in this anymore than I have to be," Atchley told O'Keefe at the start.

As they settled in for the interview, he cautioned Atchley: "We're about to go down a weird -- a weird street right now," a transcript shows.

Atchley, the agent said, needed to be truthful.

Credit: WBIR
Part of Amanda Atchley's statement to the TBI in May 2020.

Prompted by the TBI agent, she slowly began to describe how she met Summers and Simpson in June 2018 after her father, Union County Commissioner Kenny Hill, came home from the hospital.

Simpson was living at the time in a small house across a shared driveway from Hill. He and Summers were friends and often socialized.

Atchley spent several days at her dad's house to help him recover.

One day when Summers came over to see Eddie Simpson, he struck up a conversation with Atchley. He knew her through her father, for whom he sometimes ran errands, transcripts show.

Summers, Simpson and Atchley traded friendly conversation, and they eventually started hanging out.

They all took a ride on a side-by-side vehicle one evening, she said. They shot pool at Eddie's place.

One night she fixed dinner. And then, according to Atchley, one thing led to another and "some things happened."

"I had sex, but it wasn't with Eddie. It was with Randy," she told Agent O'Keefe.

All told, she said, they had sex four times. Once in her dad's loft, twice at Simpson's place and a fourth time at Summers' house while his family was away.

Simpson knew what was happening, Atchley said, but he never said anything about it.

O'Keefe explained that a new trial for Shannon Smith might be at stake and that's why the TBI had gotten involved.

"I am not going to have to get on the stand, am I, and say this ----? Because I almost kind of -- I can't. I won't. I can't," she said.

Atchley wondered if the defense was trying to discredit Summers as one of the lead case investigators. O'Keefe said he wasn't trying to discredit anyone, but that Jones' appeal would address her time with the detective.

"Because of me and him?" she asked.

"Because of this, yeah," O'Keefe replied.

"Holy ----. Are you serious?"

"Yeah," the agent said again.

"Can I go on the record and say that I specifically asked several times, you know, so what can you tell me (about the murder case)? What can you tell me? I did."

"Uh huh."

"I did. And he never said a word."

"OK," O'Keefe replied.

Atchley said she was willing to swear on her children's life that that was the truth.

The agent also confronted her about repeated texts and phone calls she made to Simpson's phone from June 22- July 11. 

She told him she thought it was "minimal." He told her he'd subpoenaed her phone records.

One day, the records showed, there were 86 back and forth messages between her phone and Simpson's. Another day there were 34 texts, and another day there were 28 texts.

Credit: Union County
The Union County Courthouse in Maynardville.

Atchley explained that she didn't want to call Summers' phone. Simpson, she said, had told her to keep contact to a minimum. Later, after Kandi Simpson discovered all the phone traffic between her husband and Atchley, Eddie Simpson explained that she was communicating with Summers.

As the TBI agent wrapped up the May 5 interview with Atchley, she insisted again that Summers had never told her anything about the Shannon Smith murder investigation.

"That's the one and only time I've cheated on my husband in the 10 years we've been married," she said. "Go figure, it bites me right in the ass. He would die if he knew, too. I just can't. He can't know. He just can't."

WBIR tried to reach Atchley for comment by the phone number she used so often to call Simpson. It's no longer in service.

Now it was time for O'Keefe to talk with Summers and Simpson. He did that May 13, 2020.

'SOMEBODY IS LYING'

The Union County detective, a veteran law enforcement officer, knew O'Keefe hadn't come for a friendly visit.

"I could tell by your demeanor when you walked up to my vehicle," he told the TBI agent that day.

Plus, O'Keefe had the recorder going.

The agent quickly got to the point. He wanted to talk about how Summers, who was present throughout Shannon Smith's 2019 trial, knew her niece, Amanda Atchley.

The detective recalled seeing her the summer before -- in June 2018 -- when she stayed with her father in Sharps Chapel.  He said he'd known Kenny Hill all his life, and was often over at the property during the summer.

Credit: WBIR
Summers' conversation in May 2020 with the TBI, in which he says he didn't interview Atchley for the investigation.

He would cut the grass for the older man. He also had permission to use a boat ramp on the property, the transcript shows.

When O'Keefe said there was "information out there" that Summers had had sex with Atchley, Summers said that wasn't true. Nothing had happened between them, he said.

"Well, there's affidavits out there saying you did," the agent replied. "And I spoke to Amanda and she says you did."

"Uh huh," Summers replied.

"So somebody is lying," the agent said.

"OK," Summers replied.

He said he couldn't understand why she would say that.

"Second off, I don't understand why it would have any bearing on this investigation -- or this case," he said.

O'Keefe explained that the defense had found out about it and would be raising it for an appeal.

Summers confirmed he had had drinks with Atchley and that he and Simpson had shot pool with her.

He couldn't recall riding on a side-by-side or a four-wheeler with her and Simpson. He remembered Atchley texting and communicating with Simpson - but he didn't remember talking with her on the phone himself. 

The detective did recall that she had asked him about the case when he saw her that summer. But, he said, he told her nothing but "generic" information about it.

"But it's -- it's weird that some of the stuff that you're telling me matches her story except for the sexual relationship part," O'Keefe said at one point.

"OK," Summers replied.

Credit: Union County
Promotional webpage for Union County.

The detective said he didn't even know at that point that she might be a potential witness. He didn't know she had any information about the case, he said.

Had Amanda ever been to the detective's house?

"No," he said. "Lord, no."

The more they talked, the more nervous Summers appeared to the agent.

"So, I've noticed you've been really shaky with some of these questions," O'Keefe said.

Summers chocked it up to not having had breakfast. Also, he'd put a lot of work into the Shannon Smith murder case and didn't want "to see something get sidetracked with it."

Then he confided something else that was bothering him.

Summers said he'd once in the early 2010s been the subject of an internal investigation with another man while working for the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission on a marijuana eradication task force.

A restaurant hostess had accused him and the other man of smoking marijuana with her after they met her at a restaurant while working in Cleveland, Tenn. At the time he said he was a probationary employee.

She was lying about him, the detective said, and he passed a polygraph test. But he still ended up getting fired. He might have used bad judgment in meeting with her, but he hadn't done anything criminally wrong, he said.

He went through a rough period after losing his job.

"So, yeah, this conversation scares the ---- out of me," Summers said.

The detective said the last time he'd talked with Atchley was the day in March 2019 when the Union County jury came back with its verdict.

On the same day he talked to Summers, O'Keefe interviewed Simpson, a Union County deputy. Simpson hadn't been involved in the Shannon Smith murder case, but he and Summers were close.

Credit: WBIR
Part of Eddie Simpson's interview with the TBI in May 2020.

Simpson said he never had sex with Amanda Atchley.

"She wanted to hang out and party and do sexual things," he told the agent. "But I never -- never done it with her."

Simpson confirmed he and Summers had drinks with her that summer of 2018 and played pool. Unlike Summers, he recalled a ride they took with her on the four-by-four.

He remembered because at one point they stopped, and everyone got eaten up by chiggers, according to the transcript.

The deputy said he didn't know if the detective and Atchley had sex. He wasn't always around when they were together, he said, and he doubted Summers would have told him anyway.

He confirmed that he'd let his friend use his phone "a time or two" to communicate with Atchley that June and July.

"How come Randy wouldn't use his phone?" O'Keefe asked.

"I mean, you're kind of putting me on the spot," Simpson replied.

"I know, I know," the agent said.

"Hell...he's...hell, he's married, too, you know," Simpson said.

Later, he said: "Do I know they was talking? Yeah. I can assume all day long, but I never was there when anything happened and I honestly can't tell you if they had sex or hooked up. I know she wanted to contact him. She wanted to contact me. She blowed my ------- phone up, man."

The last time he said he saw Atchley was at a wedding. He said she'd been drinking and suggested she could go home with him.

But, the deputy said, she "wasn't my cup of tea, to be honest with you."

Simpson's then wife Kandi became aware of numerous calls and texts between Simpson and Atchley. She confronted him about it.

They eventually divorced. And Jones eventually found out about the phone records himself.

Credit: WBIR
T. Scott Jones, who represents Shannon Smith in her pursuit of a new trial.

A BURST OF FLAME

In his pursuit of a new trial, the defense attorney also has submitted affidavits from Kandi Simpson and Jolley. He also has submitted affidavits from Tim and Shannon Smith's daughters, Jessica Savage and Brooke Smith.

They both state that Atchley, their first cousin, told them she'd had an affair with Simpson and Summers in the "summer and early fall of 2018."

In his affidavit, Jolley states that the failure to disclose the relationship between Atchley and Summers "is one of the clearest and worst violations of a defendant's right to the disclosure of favorable, material evidence that I have ever encountered."

Jones said when he began digging into what may have gone on, he thought he had a lot of smoke. But then it turned into "a burst of flame."

Shannon Smith, he said, is "maintaining her faith in the justice system and doing her best to just take things on a day-to-day basis."

She's shocked and disappointed at what's come out about the alleged relationship between the detective and her niece, Jones said.

Some time in 2021, she'll likely be transported back to the Union County Courthouse as Jones seeks to convince Judge Sexton that his client didn't get a fair trial.