Thursday, March 24, 2005

Family Feud

Former son-in-law blew the whistle on late Chancellor Floyd Peete Jr.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 24, 2005 at 4:00 AM

loyd Peete Jr. seemed to be the picture of success.

He was a Chancery Court judge earning a six-figure annual income. He had been reelected in 1998 for a second eight-year term that would have carried him to the threshold of a comfortable retirement when he turned 65. He was a good-looking guy who kept himself in shape. His daughters were outstanding tennis players, the Memphis version of the Williams sisters. He had a house in the suburbs and friends with top-of-the-line connections. He watched the 2002 heavyweight championship fight between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson at The Pyramid from prime seats near ringside.

Then on August 3, 2002, Peete died of a heart attack at a condominium near Pompano Beach, Florida, at the age of 60. Death brought him no peace. Within months, rumors were spreading that he had been on the take in a high-dollar case.

The rumors became accusations, and in January the accusations were spelled out in an indictment. A state grand jury charged businessman William B. Tanner with bribing Peete to influence Tanner's $70 million dispute with Jerry Peck over the sale of their billboard company. Tanner will be arraigned on April 5th, the same day the Tennessee Supreme Court will meet in Jackson to decide what to do with the Tanner-Peck case.

According to an affidavit filed in that case, the whistle blower was a former member of Peete's own family: Michael Anderson, married to Peete's daughter Yacqui in 2000. They separated in 2002 and are getting divorced. Anderson, a former University of Memphis football player who lettered in 1993 and 1994, went to Peck and then to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in 2003.

In non-jury trials such as Peck v. Tanner, the judge is sole arbiter. From March to May 2001, Peete listened to seven weeks of argument and entered scores of documents and exhibits into the case file. According to Anderson's affidavit, the trial was a sham.

On Labor Day weekend in 2001, Peete and his family and Anderson spent a week in Destin, Florida, at a resort. Anderson went to buy something from the gift shop and was told to charge it to his room instead of paying for it because "Mr. Tanner has taken care of everything." Earlier, Floyd Peete had told Anderson, "You know, Bill Tanner has a case in my court, and I'm going to take care of him."

He also told Anderson he had a contract to buy a business called BC Delivery Service.

"I believe the money for the purchase came from Bill Tanner," Anderson's affidavit says. "It was my understanding from my wife that the sale was handled by Beverly Davis, a 'financial consultant' who has been a friend of the Peete family for a long time."

Yacqui Peete took over the business after her father's death. On August 31, 2002, she discussed how to run the business in a phone conversation with Tanner. Anderson taped the call and listened on another line. That tape was given to the TBI.

In March 2003 -- seven months after Floyd Peete's death and five months after Anderson and Yacqui Peete separated -- Anderson called Peck.

"I spoke about my knowledge of a business relationship between the late Chancellor Peete and William B. Tanner," the affidavit says. "As a matter of fact, this knowledge has bothered me for some time because it put my family in harm's way, because of the wrongdoing involved, and also because of the harm done to Mr. Peck, who I have a great deal of respect for from a business standpoint."

Anderson and Peck's son Scott had known each other since 1992 when Anderson was working for Naegele Outdoor Advertising.

Anderson gave the taped phone call to the TBI and testified to the grand jury that indicted Tanner and Davis.

Some controversial Peete rulings in other cases could also get another look, now that his impartiality has been officially challenged. In 2002, Peete granted Senator John Ford a divorce from Tamara Mitchell-Ford without dividing their property, establishing custody of their three children, or ordering child-support payments. In another 2002 divorce case, Peete granted a divorce settlement to politically influential developer Rusty Hyneman that was overturned on appeal in 2003.

In 1999, Peete ruled in favor of Penn National Gaming's application for a Memphis horse-racing track, even though the Tennessee Racing Commission had been abolished and District Attorney General Bill Gibbons opposed it. The ruling was overturned.

In 2000, Peete withdrew from a lawsuit involving control of the Beale Street Historic District, citing a business relationship with a third party, Cooper Management.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Dark Night

The Memphis Industrial Goth Project provides a home for the local goth scene.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 11, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Walk into the Full Moon Club above Zinnie's East restaurant on a Wednesday night, and you'll find yourself in a world of darkness where the smoke from clove cigarettes fills the air and guys and girls dressed in leather, spikes, and chains dance to the sounds of Bauhaus and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult.

It's Industrial Goth Night, and as soon as you reach the top of the stairs, you're greeted by a friendly doorman wearing a fishnet shirt and a dog collar. A crowd of black-clothed patrons are hovering near the bar, and a couple of spiky-haired guys in heavy eyeliner and trenchcoats are shooting pool.

Around the corner on the dance floor, a woman with Elvira-style hair is being pulled by her chained collar by a slim guy in a tight-fitting black sportscoat. Next to them, an older man, who bears a striking resemblance to Riff-Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, dances with a younger man whose slick black hair is shaped into two hornlike spikes. Up in the curtained DJ booth, Dev "Sameal" Deval is spinning Depeche Mode.

It's Memphis Industrial Goth Project's first night at the Full Moon Club after the crowd outgrew the Liquid Lounge on Highland. The only goth/industrial-themed night in the city, an average Wednesday night at Liquid Lounge drew about 150. It began in December, and before long the club became so crowded that many patrons were left with nowhere to sit.

The popularity of the Wednesday nights showed that Memphis has a decent-sized goth scene that up until recently had no place to call home.

"I came to Memphis about six months ago [from Detroit], and I noticed there wasn't any type of industrial goth night or club anywhere in the city, so I put some feelers out to see who might be interested," says Sameal, founder of the entertainment collective called MIG Project.

Sameal recruited a team of four others to form the MIG Project: DJs Brad "Totenkopf" Allison, Jonas "The Plastic Citizen" Stoltz, and a guy who simply goes by St. Faust. Faust, doubling as a photographer, walks around shooting patrons and then posts the pictures on the group's Web site, The doorman, the nice guy in the dog collar, is Levi.

Totenkopf, a longtime fixture in the Memphis goth scene, put on a few goth parties at Red Square, a defunct downtown dance club, back in 1997 and then again at the Spot in 2002, but he says the MIG Project is the largest revival of goth in Memphis that he's seen.

The group is striving to create a safe place for the goth crowd to gather -- a place to be entertained without having to worry about being gawked at. That's why they've enacted a dress code requiring an excess of black clothing. Bondage, fetish, Renaissance, punk, and metal attire are also acceptable.

"When somebody comes in dressed in mainstream attire, they're immediately gawking," says Sameal. "This is a very nonviolent, nonconfrontational crowd, and they have no desire to be harassed for wearing makeup and leather pants."

So, what is goth?

"There's a huge misunderstanding in the mainstream community," says Sameal. "They tend to think the black clothing and the dark music is all about death and morbidity.

"But like the hippie movement, the goth movement is actually about life and freedom. Yet the goth still wants a constant reminder that life isn't always pretty and perfect. Even in the most sorrowful, horrible things in life, beauty can still be found." n

Industrial Goth Night at the Full Moon Club (1718 Madison) runs from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. every Wednesday. For more information, go to the Web site

Cost/Benefit Analysis

With a full plate and tight budget, federal prosecutors are unlikely to retry O.C. Smith.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 11, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Like every other branch of government, the U.S. Department of Justice is facing tight budgets and cost-cutting measures. Combined with other factors, that suggests that a retrial of former Shelby County medical examiner Dr. O.C. Smith is unlikely.

Special prosecutor Bud Cummins, the U.S. attorney in Little Rock, isn't tipping his hand, but he said a decision will probably be made within two weeks. A mistrial was declared last week following a three-week trial that was the culmination of a three-year investigation of the alleged attack on Smith at the morgue on June 1, 2002. In an unusually candid interview Tuesday, Cummins said the costs and benefits of a retrial are "on the table."

"We're facing the tightest budget restraints in memory of anyone in the Department of Justice," he said. "We have a lot of discretion whether to indict someone. Cost is not pivotal in that decision, but you can't pretend it's free."

Federal prosecutors in Memphis have had a full plate lately. They spent three years on the Lynn Lang and Logan Young football-booster case, which ended in February. And federal grand juries are looking at both Mayor Willie Herenton and state senator John Ford.

In Smith's case, the cost has been considerable, because for several months Smith was under 24-hour protection, while a task force of 17 agencies ran down more than 100 leads looking for an attacker. When the focus shifted to Smith himself, investigators bent over backward to be thorough.

Jim Cavanaugh, lead investigator for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, said he was the "biggest obstacle" to thinking of Smith as a suspect rather than a victim. He insisted that investigators continue to chase outside leads even after inconsistencies in Smith's story became apparent. It was only after several months that he agreed the evidence should be presented to a grand jury for possible indictment of Smith.

"We took it that way because the facts forced us that way," Cavanaugh said.

It took several more months during 2003 to find a prosecutor. Terry Harris, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, recused his staff because of ties to Smith. The United States attorney for North Mississippi took the case, then gave it back, before Cummins and assistant prosecutor Pat Harris agreed to try it. "That probably took nine months to a year in all," said Cummins.

Cummins said he will check with defense attorneys Gerald Easter and Jim Garts then make a decision on a retrial "sooner rather than later." U.S. district judge Bernice Donald set April 19th as the next report date, but Cummins said a decision could come next week.

"We hate to not retry one," he said, adding that Harris is the main trial lawyer in the office and "it's his case."

But Cummins said he and Harris must also take into account the 9-3 vote in favor of acquittal and comments jurors made to the attorneys immediately after the trial. Cummins said there were moments during the debriefing "when I would liked to have jumped up and said, 'Are you kidding?' But if you shut up and listen, it's good stuff." Jurors said they didn't like some expert witnesses and had little interest in factitious disorder, the diagnosis of Smith suggested by expert witness Dr. Park Dietz.

The biggest surprise to Cummins was that at least three of the nine jurors who voted not-guilty believed that Smith was attacked. Prosecutors thought their major problem would be overcoming the burden of proof and reasonable doubt. "We didn't connect with them very well on our theory; there's no beating around the bush," he said. "If I conclude we are likely to hang another jury, then there is not much point."

Asked if Smith had a home-court advantage, Cummins said there was "clearly a division of loyalties we had to deal with" in the law-enforcement community. But, like Easter, he complimented Donald on doing a professional job under difficult personal circumstances. The judge's judicial colleague, James Swearengen, and her court clerk, Yolanda Savage, both died while the trial was under way.

Cavanaugh, who said he was strongly in favor of a retrial in a post-trial press conference last week, seemed to be softening his stance a bit this week. The ATF agent has worked on the Washington, D.C., sniper case, the Eric Rudolph case, and the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

"If there is a bomber loose, it's so devastating on a community," he said. "I thought it was the right thing to take the Smith case to the bar of justice." He added, however, "If it's not at the end, it's close to the end."

Thursday, March 3, 2005

London Calling

Memphis, listen up. An Irish artist wants to hear from you.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 3, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Say you're traveling about town the first week of May, and you come across an offer on the street for a free CD. No strings attached. It's yours for the taking. You could even be in on the making, because the CD will be part of a public-art project by Anita McKeown and she's asking right now for inspiration.

The idea is this: Memphis, Tennessee, in sonic form. Not its well-documented music, but its "found sounds," the everyday, overheard, and overlooked noises, major and minor, that generate the city's rhythms. It could be the sound inside a laundromat. It could be the sound of a bus stopping and starting. And, as a contributor, you could be anybody -- a doctor, a construction worker, a lawyer, a musician or artist even. Send your sound ideas, along with information on where to find them, to The mailbox is open. She's ready to read.

Then she'll be recording, sampling, manipulating, and producing 3,000 limited-edition audio CDs that she's planning to make available in time for the Beale Street Music Festival and throughout Memphis In May, which this year is saluting Ireland, which also happens to be McKeown's native country.

"I'm interested in the idiosyncratic, day-to-day sounds in your life, the sounds you hardly notice," the artist said recently by phone from London, where she makes her home. "And maybe, in the process, people will begin to think, God, I never really gave it any thought.

"This is my motivation: to provoke, in a nice way, something new, even if it's just a thought, and something different, especially in a city that's already culturally loaded in relation to music. It's all about reconsidering the mundane. How even the everyday can be a rich source of material and ideas.

"What is the sonic landscape of Memphis today? It can't be only blues, soul, and rock-and-roll. No city is that non-multidimensional. The answer is going to be different for different people, and I want there to be a potential for dialogue -- that's what I'm interested in. Of course, it's going to be mediated by me, by what's happening inside my own, for want of a better word, psyche.

"The CD -- seven three-minute versions in all [inspired by the three-minute classic 45 pop single] and available at seven "listening posts" [locations to be determined] -- may be quite abstract. It may even be quite uncomfortable to listen to. But it's an artwork. And it's a giveaway."

It will also be just one element in a multipart project McKeown is calling "Memphis 45s": a site-specific DVD in May to be projected in a public space (yet to be determined); a Web page with all source material freely available, including an ongoing virtual gallery; and future plans to expand the project. A Bravo Award by First Tennessee Bank is funding the project.

How McKeown, an artist with a major interest in public art and community participation, found herself in Memphis in the fall of last year is a story in itself. She'd traveled the United States before but never the South. So when the UrbanArt Commission and the Memphis College of Art agreed to a research residency in 2004, McKeown booked her flight. Without a car but with eyes and ears open, McKeown fell for the city in ways that came as a surprise, a pleasant surprise. (Added surprise: The artist grew up a few miles from the ancestral home of Andrew Jackson, one of the city's founders.)

"I felt at home in Memphis," McKeown said. "More at home than I've ever felt in the 15 years I've lived in London. I mean, the way people in Memphis interacted, the open, friendly atmosphere. I'd walk down the street, and people actually said hello! I thought, It's easy for me here."

It wasn't necessarily easy for the Irish in 19th-century Memphis, however, a history McKeown wants to continue to explore. Nor for race relations in Memphis then or necessarily now, an issue she's particularly attuned to having grown up in a divided Ireland. Even her London neighborhood is in some ways a mirror image of Memphis: Deptford, in South London, is near the Thames and has a history of river trade. According to McKeown, it's also one of the most ethnically diverse areas of Europe, the site of some 15 spoken languages, which may have Memphis beat, given Deptford's compact size. As for the "soundscape," does Memphis compare?

Anita McKeown is listening. In May, we shall see -- and hear.

Ridiculous & Beyond

Jurors weren't the only ones divided in the O.C. Smith case.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 3, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Can a hung jury ever be the best outcome in a criminal trial?

The answer could be "yes" in the trial of former Shelby County Medical Examiner Dr. O. C. Smith. After deliberating for almost three days, the jury remained deadlocked Tuesday and U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald declared a mistrial. Prosecutors now must decide whether to retry the case.

To Smith, the benefits of a hung jury are obvious. If the government elects not to retry him -- with the same evidence in a case already three years old -- he goes free.

But not unscathed. Smith has endured the ordeal of indictment, trial by jury, unfavorable publicity, and the considerable cost of defending himself.

Federal prosecutors can only claim a tie, but they will get credit for having the courage to take on a respected member of the Memphis law enforcement community without fear or favor. There was always a possibility that the Smith case would simply go away after no attacker was found in the first few months and the publicity died down. Investigators and prosecutors could have simply rolled over and pointed out that it took more than 15 years to catch the Unabomber.

A conviction could have opened the door to appeals of other cases in which Smith gave critical testimony. Convicted cop killer Philip Workman, for example, probably gets a lifetime reprieve because of doubts that Smith's case has raised. Smith gave important testimony against Workman in a clemency hearing.

If Smith had been acquitted, would a task force have been reconvened to look for the attacker? Would finding him be U.S. attorney Terry Harris' "number-one priority," as he declared on June 3, 2002, the day after Smith's alleged attack?

Would Smith, who resigned under pressure, have gotten his old job back?

And what of the attacker? Would Smith have again been assigned round-the-clock police protection because the mad bomber is still out there, madder and more motivated than ever because of the trial and all the publicity? Does the bomber take it up a notch?

A mistrial lets both Smith and federal prosecutors save face. The bomber goes into the file with Nicole Simpson's killer. People who think Smith did it will continue to think that. People who think Smith was attacked will continue to think that. With luck, we will hear no more of the bizarre bombing at the morgue.

"As far as a federal crime goes, it's such a ridiculous point we've gotten to," said U.S. attorney Pat Harris, special prosecutor from Arkansas in the Smith case, in the 2003 videotaped interview. Amen.

TO HARRIS AND CO-COUNSEL BUD Cummins, also from Little Rock, the Smith trial was the culmination of a two-year investigation by 17 law enforcement agencies following up 112 leads. To defense attorney Gerald Easter, it was "the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives] and the boys from Little Rock up here persecutin' O.C. Smith."

Both sides were exaggerating.

The 17 agencies included the likes of the IRS, the Germantown Police Department, and the Secret Service. The heavy lifting was done by the ATF, federal prosecutors, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Memphis Police Department, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office, and the FBI. The Shelby County District Attorney General's Office was conspicuously absent.

Easter's folksy suggestion that federal cowpokes from across the river were on a vendetta is absurd -- which is not to say it didn't score points with the jury. As Cummins pointed out, federal prosecutors have broad powers to get assistance from other agencies. His Memphis colleague, Terry Harris, testified that Smith has been his personal friend and professional colleague for more than 14 years and is known as "our doc" to local cops. The poignant words of Harris made it clear that no one relished prosecuting "our doc."

As the trial unfolded, it became clear that "the boys from Little Rock" were not getting unanimous cooperation from local law enforcement. A total of 23 witnesses came from various law enforcement agencies -- 14 of them from the ATF or the Memphis Police Department -- and four of them were called by the defense.

Lt. Richard Borgers of the MPD was the first cop on the scene.

"He [Smith] appeared scared to death and looked like he was about to pass out," he testified. "No, I don't believe he could have done it to himself."

Lt. Marcus Worthy of the MPD was the first crime-scene investigator on the scene. He testified erroneously about the position of Smith's hands on the window grate and erroneously again about whether Smith's truck had been impounded and processed after a bomb-sniffing dog hit on it. The truck was never processed, apparently because Smith, according to MPD detective Connie Maness, was "upset" by the suggestion.

As one of the boys, Smith got special consideration from Memphis police. After spending a few hours in the hospital after the attack, he was allowed to return to the crime scene for much of the day.

"I was pretty upset that he had come back to the scene," testified ATF agent Mike Rowland, who feared that the attacker might still be lurking nearby.

Rosemary Andrews, a prosecution witness who works as an attorney for the Shelby County district attorney general, gave more comfort to Smith than prosecutors.

"He looked like he had been in a fistfight," she testified about her visit to Smith the day he was attacked to help him write his statement.

Mike Willis, the former commander of the MPD bomb squad who removed the bomb from Smith's neck, testified, "Our job is to render safe, not to investigate." He and two other bomb squad officers who testified offered no opinion about the attack.

Lt. Steve Scott of the University of Tennessee police force was the person who discovered Smith bound in the stairwell outside the morgue. Scott, who was friends with Smith and shared an interest in weapons, remained bravely at Smith's side until he was rescued. His testimony reduced Smith to tears.

Sheriff's deputies Dirk Beasley and Gary Hood testified about a possible suspect they encountered three days earlier, but it turned out the man was in jail the day of the attack.

Unlike Easter, prosecutors Harris and Cummins did not directly ask their witnesses the crucial question, "Do you think Dr. Smith could have done this to himself?"

Which, of course, was the only question jurors had to ask themselves.

Smith did not testify in his own defense. Before sending them off to deliberate, Judge Donald instructed jurors, "The fact that Dr. Smith did not testify cannot be used by you. Do not even discuss it in your deliberations."

Schooled in combat, Smith employed a strategy of passive resistance from the moment he was "attacked" to the appearance of the last defense witness, his wife Marge, who five times refused to directly answer Cummins' questions about whether her husband regularly carried a gun, as several witnesses testified.

"He was authorized to carry a gun," she said repeatedly.

The brains-over-brawn strategy served Smith well. In his account, the attacker splashed an acid solution in his face two times and sucker-punched him in the gut. From that point on, Smith offered only token resistance because he was unsure if the attacker had a knife or gun. A Marine commander called as a defense witness said such a response would not be inappropriate in the circumstances.

While he did not testify, Smith played an active part in his defense. Under his tutelage, defense attorney Jim Garts, a self-described C student in chemistry, hammered for hours at the "12 percent solution of sodium hydroxide" the government said was in the bottle splashed in Smith's face. His point seemed to be that there was such a small residue left in the bottle that nobody could tell for sure what percentage of acid was in the bottle.

What effect this had on the jury is not yet known. If chemistry is inherently confusing to laymen, then confusion could equal doubt in some minds.

Back in 2003, Harris confronted Smith in the interview, and Smith went into an explanation of sodium hydroxide. Harris quickly steered the interview in another direction.

"You'll beat me on science," Harris said.

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