A murder conviction in Lake County has been overturned due, in part, to the actions of Shelby County District Attorney General (SCDAG) Amy Weirich, whose actions, along with some others, were “inexplicable and improper.”
In 2011, the Lake County Grand Jury indicted Joshua Hunter Bargery in the murders of Clarence Shell, 68, and his wife, Sue Shell, 70. Both had been stabbed to death. Their home on Owl Hoot Road had been ransacked and some jewelry and guns were missing.
At trial four years later, attorneys for Bargery argued that while he was there the night they were killed, the deed was actually carried out by three members of the Mexikanemi, a Mexican gang.
Bargery’s attorneys called upon Memphis Police Department (MPD) lieutenant Anthony Carter as an expert witness. Through his work with the MPD and a drug task force, Carter had front-line experience and knowledge of gangs operating throughout West Tennessee, the attorneys said. In a statement issued at a recent hearing, Carter said he was the Assistant Commander for the Multi-Agency Gang Unit for West Tennessee.
Carter agreed to testify for the defense at Bargery’s trial about gang activity in Lake County. However, he rescinded that offer after he said he felt pressure from his commander to forego the trial.
“Well, what (the commander) told — came to me and said was that he had been contacted — he didn’t say who contacted him, but he had been contacted in regards to me coming and testifying,” Carter said in court. “And my immediate supervisor first approached me, and then my chief had a conversation with me.
“And I just felt like, because I’ve been in this department for (30) years at the time, that I didn’t want to have any conflicts. I haven’t had any problems, I didn’t want to have any now. So it just — just took the steam out of me even wanting to get involved.”
That initial contact with Carter’s bosses came from, according to court documents, SCDAG Weirich. C. Phillip Bivens. the District Attorney General serving Dyer and Lake County, called Weirich about Carter’s involvement with the case.
During her testimony about that call, Weirich said, “I know (Carter), that’s unusual,” according to court papers. She said it was “unusual that he would be testifying on behalf of the defense as an expert in the area of gangs, unusual that he would be testifying in a court other than Shelby County, just, the circumstances were unusual.”
She told General Bivens that she would “find out what’s going on,” according court documents. Weirich then contacted Toney Armstrong, then-director of the MPD, to “give him a heads-up” about Carter testifying for the defense in the case.
For this and other reasons, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, overturned the trial court’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.
“At the request of the DA handling the case in Lake County, I simply made the Memphis Police Director aware that one of his officers was going to testify in another jurisdiction for the defense in a gang case,” Weirich said in a statement Wednesday. “I never talked to the officer.”
In his ruling, Judge Robert L. Holloway Jr. said Carter’s testimony would have aided the defense.
“Finally, the state’s interference with the defendant’s gang expert, Lieutenant Carter, who had agreed to testify that the manner in which the victims were killed, was consistent with the modus operandi of the Mexikanemi, was inexplicable and improper,” Holloway wrote. “His testimony would have offered further support for the Defendant’s testimony that he did not kill the victims.”