When a so-called preacher is not really a man of God
Date: September 15, 2019 09:34PM
"Grayson Fritts' call for LGBTQ executions could pose serious liability in criminal cases
Hayes Hickman, Knoxville News SentinelPublished 12:48 p.m. ET June 20, 2019 | Updated 12:56 p.m. ET June 20, 2019"
Outspoken sheriff's office Detective Grayson Fritts' recent call for the state-sponsored executions of LGBTQ people has created a potentially serious liability for Knox County prosecutors who would call him as a witness, several veteran Knoxville defense attorneys contend.
Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen announced last week her office has launched a review of all pending cases involving Fritts for potential bias after the Knoxville News Sentinel first reported the veteran lawman and pastor told his congregation earlier this month the government should execute people within the LGBTQ community.
Allen's office has declined to specify how many open cases now warrant a second look.
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The News Sentinel's own review of court records confirms Fritts is connected to at least 10 felony criminal cases pending in Knox County, although the extent of his involvement in any of them is not immediately clear.
"I'd say if they don't have to call him in a case, you'll never hear from him at this point," said defense attorney Mike Whalen.
Defense attorney Mike Whalen questions a witness in February 2012.Buy Photo
Defense attorney Mike Whalen questions a witness in February 2012. (Photo: J. Miles Cary / News Sentinel)
Tennessee court rules allow a lawyer to challenge the trustworthiness of any witness under cross-examination.
"I have a right to tell (a jury) about things relevant to his character," Whalen said. "It makes you wonder what other beliefs he holds. The question becomes, 'Can you trust this guy?'
"That's usually not a good position to be in, from a prosecutor's standpoint."
Allen's spokesman, Assistant District Attorney General Sean McDermott, did not respond to the News Sentinel's question about Fritts' potential liability as a witness moving forward.
Among the pending cases, the Knox County Sheriff's Office Major Crimes detective is named as one of several officers involved in two homicide investigations that resulted in first-degree murder charges now awaiting trial.
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Fritts also is listed among the witnesses who may be called to testify in the case of Shawn Lee Smith, a 46-year-old man charged with rape and sexual battery of another man stemming from an alleged attack at a West Knox County hotel room in October 2015.
A mistrial was declared in the case last year after the accuser made several outbursts in court. Smith is set for retrial in December.
Whalen briefly represented Smith after the mistrial, but has since recused himself from the case due to a conflict.
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Smith's current attorney, Forrest Wallace, declined to comment this week, explaining he still is reviewing the case and has yet to meet with prosecutors.
The Burger King analogy
Fritts has denied that his personal beliefs compromise his duties as a law enforcement officer, comparing his job to that of a fast-food employee.
"If I worked at the Burger King and someone from the LGBT community came in and they ordered a hamburger, I would make them a hamburger," he told reporters outside his independent Baptist church in Knoxville last week. "Even if I felt differently towards that person, and felt exactly the way I feel and believe, I would still do my job."
Dennis Francis (Photo: (NEWS SENTINEL PHOTO))
Defense attorney Dennis Francis, however, questioned whether a jury could separate Fritts' personal beliefs from his oath to serve and protect when the detective has gone so far as to publicly advocate for the murder of people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
"It goes to the whole person," Francis said. "It's a distinction without a distinction.
"I think it's a huge problem for law enforcement, including the DA's office. ... They've got a long, very large hill to climb in terms of what to do with those cases."
In her announcement last week, Allen called Fritts' comments "personally offensive and reprehensible," although she noted her office has never received a complaint against him.
And while Allen's office will review his work on pending cases, prosecutors have no plans to revisit closed cases Fritts was connected to during his career unless they receive a specific complaint.
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Fritts has worked for the Sheriff's Office since 1999, according to his personnel records. He became a patrol officer in 2003 and was promoted to detective in 2014.
Defense attorney David Eldridge applauded the district attorney general's decision to launch the review. And he encouraged other lawyers to take another look themselves.
David Eldridge, one of the attorneys who defended Lemaricus Davidson, testifies at a post-conviction hearing for Davidson in Knox County Criminal Court on Monday, Jan. 28, 2018.Buy Photo
David Eldridge, one of the attorneys who defended Lemaricus Davidson, testifies at a post-conviction hearing for Davidson in Knox County Criminal Court on Monday, Jan. 28, 2018. (Photo: J Miles Cary/Special To The News Sentinel)
"There is a serious question as to whether Detective Fritts' investigative work was done free of such impermissible bias," Eldridge said. "All defense counsel with both past and presently pending cases based upon Detective Fritts' investigative work should of course examine them closely for evidence of such bias and the undeniable opportunity to undermine his credibility through vigorous cross-examination."
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