Last week, the historic Roland Darnell house at 1433 Union, which once housed the women's philanthropy organization, the Nineteenth Century Club, seemed destined for the wrecking ball after Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter said he had little choice but to allow the building's new owners to go forward with demolition plans.
But the brakes have been pressed on demolition after four current and former members of the Nineteenth Century Club, represented by Shelby County Commissioner and attorney Steve Mulroy, managed to get a temporary injunction from Shelby County Chancery Court. The women — Teresa Hurst of Memphis, Gloria McDaniel of Memphis, Connie Lee of Memphis and Nancy Walker of Germantown — allege that the organization's leadership auctioned the property in January without full approval of the club's membership.
The four must post a $650,000 bond within 10 days. Memphis Heritage has launched a fund-raising campaign to help the women raise the bond money.
Judge Larry Potter said he had little choice today but to allow the new owners of the former Nineteenth Century Club headquarters at 1433 Union to do what they wanted with their property. The owners have expressed plans to demolish the property, but Potter said they must show him proof that they've pulled the proper permits by August 26th before the demolition can begin.
"I do not like the fact that your client wants to demolish the building, but they have met all the requirements under the law," Potter said, addressing Linda Mathis, an attorney with Union Group LLC who represents the new owners, Liang Lin and Xiao Dan Chen.
The case had been reset to today because preservationists were attempting to salvage the hundred-plus-year-old home by asking an attorney to look into possible illegalities around the sale of the building. The Lins won the property at auction in January, but there was some belief that the Nineteenth Century Club may have violated its by-laws with the decision to sell because the sale may not have been properly authorized by all of the club's membership.
Attorney Webb Brewer told Potter today that the Tennessee Attorney General's office had said they'd evaluate the complaint, but they gave him no guarantee they'd take on the case. No action had been filed in chancery court, the court that would have jurisdiction to look into such a case. Potter's Environmental Court would not have jurisdiction over the possible illegality of the sale of property.
Potter told the courtroom that, although he wasn't happy about his decision, he had little choice but to let the new owners move forward with plans to demolish the historic home. Since the attorney general's office had not promised to take up the case or provide a timeline of when they may, Potter said the court must move forward.
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The ban on nudity, alcohol, and physical contact between dancers and customers at Shelby County strip clubs was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati on Tuesday.
The ban, which was approved by the Shelby County Commission in 2007, has been appealed by club owners several times. It went into effect in January of last year.
But the ruling likely won't make much difference in the way most former strip clubs now operate. After the new rules went into effect last year, many clubs took on a bikini bar format so they could continue to sell beer. Dancers at the bikini bars wear two-piece bathing suits or Hooters-style crop tops and extremely short shorts.
Click here to read the Flyer's coverage of how the rules affected business at the once-thriving clubs.
Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter has reset the case for the Nineteenth Century Club house at 1433 Union to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 10th.
The case, at which the building's new owners are ordered to present a plan for the building's demolition, was originally set to be heard this morning.
Last week, Potter told the new owners that they couldn't move forward with any demolition plans until he'd approved them.
Potter made clear in court last week that he opposes the idea of demolition but that he has no legal means to stop the owners from tearing down the building.
"We are losing something we will never re-gain. I do not think it’s a wise decision to demolish this building,” Potter told the courtroom. “But frankly, that doesn’t matter. If there were legal means for me to stop this, I would.”
Memphis Heritage and the Midtown Action Coalition have been vocal opponents of the planned demolition.
After 15 years in prison, 10 of them on death row, Timothy McKinney walked out of jail a free man today.
McKinney was convicted of the 1997 shooting death of off-duty MPD officer, Donald Williams, at Crumpy’s Comedy Club in North Memphis. His case garnered much national attention amid allegations that prosecutors suppressed key evidence in McKinney's 1999 trial and that his conviction was too heavily predicated on fallible eyewitness testimony.
Indeed, ten years after his conviction, questions about whether McKinney was adequately represented by his defense counsel in the 1999 trial led to an appeal that overturned his original conviction. In subsequent retrials, two hung juries were unable to re-convict Timothy McKinney of the murder of Officer Williams. The most recent trial ended last month with a hung jury — the majority of the jury members in favor of McKinney's acquittal.
"During the period of time between the initial trial and the retrials, many of the State’s witnesses, including
the State’s key witness Officer Frank Lee, passed away. After a great deal of consideration, I decided to accept the guilty plea of the defendant to second degree murder and criminal attempt second degree murder," said district attorney Amy Weirich in a statement yesterday.
"I know it's been a long 15 years for both sides and there is no good resolution to a first degree murder case," Judge Lee Coffee said after accepting McKinney's guilty plea. "This is probably the only resolution at this time because I'm of the opinion that this case could probably be tried 800 times and I don't know that it would ever get a unanimous verdict given the state of the witnesses. It's not a resolution that probably either side is happy with, but under the circumstances I think it's probably the only resolution."
The family of Donald Williams was prepared for a fourth trial, and was, as Coffee suggested, "disappointed at the outcome."
"While we understand the situation and the D.A.'s decision, our family resolved early on to stay the course; to prosecute Mr. McKinney to the fullest extent of the law," read a statement issued by the family after yesterday's proceedings.
Still, the pervasive feeling in the courtroom yesterday was that of exhausted relief, if not on both sides, certainly on the part of McKinney, his family, and his team of defenders, including the team from New York law firm Davis, Polk & Wardwell who helped him appeal and overturn the original conviction.
"I don't think a jury is ever going to be able to decide the fate of Mr. McKinney," said Skahan after the court hearing yesterday. "The options are to continue to try this case and spend a lot of taxpayer money or to work out a settlement. As Judge Coffee said, it's a settlement that probably both sides aren't happy with but in the end, the state got a conviction and Mr. McKinney got his freedom."
"I'm still very much in shock. I'm still overwhelmed. I spent the last decade in solitary confinement. I'm not used to being around anyone, especially this many people," said Damien Echols, from a press conference announcing his freedom and that of Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. after the three served 18 years for the homicide of three eight-year-old boys from West Memphis, Arkansas.
Surrounded by their attorneys and supporters Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley timidly addressed the crowd of reporters inside the Craighead County Courthouse in Jonesboro, Arkansas on Friday morning, just moments after the three entered an Alford Plea allowing for their release from prison. The West Memphis Three have been in prison since 1993 after they were convicted of killing Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers.
An Alford Plea is a guilty plea where the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence. Under the Alford plea, the defendant does admit that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecuting attorney Scott Ellington said a 2010 Arkansas Supreme Court ruling brought to light the possibility that the defendants could receive a new trial, and allegations of misconduct on behalf of a juror in the Echols-Baldwin trial could have resulted in a new trial being ordered by the circuit or federal court.
"I further believe it would have been impossible to put on a proper case against the defendants in this particular case after 18 years of extended litigation," Ellington told reporters. "Even if the state were to prevail in a new trail, sentences could be different and the appeals process would begin all over again."
Other contributing factors to the state's acceptance of an Alford Plea include the fact that two of the victims' families have sided with the defense, the mother of one witness who testified against Echols has publicly doubted her daughter's truthfulness, and the state crime lab employee who collected fiber evidence in the Echols and Baldwin homes after their arrests has died.
"Today's proceedings allows the defendants the freedom of speech to say they are innocent, but the fact is, they just plead guilty. I strongly believe that the interests of justice have been served today," said Ellington, who claimed he still believes the three are guilty of the murders.
Ellington said the Alford Plea does allow the state to file new charges if new evidence arises.
"[The Alford Plea] is not perfect by any means," said Echols, seated alongside wife Lori Davis. "But it brings closure in some aspects."
Baldwin's attorney Blake Hendrix told reporters that Baldwin was initially resistant to pleading guilty, but decided to make the plea to free his friend Echols from death row. Baldwin and Misskelley were serving life sentences.
"There are many reasons Jason made this decision, but one was taking one man off of death row. He saved a man's life," Hendrix said.
"[Damien] has had it so much worse than I have. I'm just glad he's out and now he'll be with his wife," Baldwin said.
Echols told reporters he was "just tired" because he hadn't slept in four days, since he learned he would soon be a free man. Davis said she was "thrilled with the results."
"Three men are free," Davis said. "And I have this man I love very much."
Photos by Morgan Jon Fox.