April 3 is calendar call for criminal trials in Dade Superior Court. But one high-profile case set for Dade Superior's spring term won't be heard until May at the earliest.
Former Dade County Sheriff Patrick Cannon faces accusations of official misconduct including violation of oath as well as multiple felony charges of theft by conversion. He was arrested in July 2015 on those charges but his trial was continued--which is to say postponed--in October 2015, April 2016 and October 2016. (Dade Superior, like other area circuit courts, has only the two regularly-scheduled trial sessions per year.)
In October 2015, Cannon's defense attorney, Christopher Townley, filed a motion to move the trial out of Dade County, with the rationale that the former top cop's profile was too high in these parts to make finding an impartial jury possible. That motion remains pending to this day. No judge has addressed it, and in fact, until recently, which judge should preside over the case has also remained an open question.
Except for Chief Judge Jon "Bo" Wood, the judges in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit--who had of course worked with the former sheriff in criminal cases--had recused themselves. Then, last year, Wood retired. The vacant judgeship was filled by Don Thompson, but Thompson has also been recused. On Jan. 17, Cannon's case was assigned to an out-of-town judge, G. Grant Brantley of the Atlanta area.
Now Cannon's trial is slated on the Dade Superior Court schedule for April 19 but Judge Brantley, who says he's presiding elsewhere that week, has set a non-jury hearing in the Cannon case for three weeks later, on May 4. The judge indicated he will consult with the parties at the hearing and set a trial date at that time.
But if trial month in Dade is April and the hearing isn't until May, can the trial still take place? Dade Superior Court Clerk Kathy Page says there's no problem with the timing. In cases where a trial might take a week or more by itself, she said, a judge will often set a trial whenever it's convenient for all parties.
"I've had a trial in January before," she said. "They will just let me know and I will get the juror panel ready."
But as to whether the Cannon trial specifically can take place in Dade this spring or summer, Ms. Page would not be tempted to guess. "I could not speculate," she said.
It's a fair question, though. Logistically, moving the trial out of Dade County would appear to require moving huge chunks of Dade County to wherever the trial is--notably such chunks as man the Dade County Sheriff's Department. The witness list for the trial includes Sheriff Ray Cross as well as staffers David Duvall, Mary Ann Bradford, Joseph Chambers, Danny Ellis, Tommy Bradford and many other familiar law enforcement names.
Also on the list are county heads of government present and past Ted Rumley and Ben Brandon.
Will the Cannon trial be moved out of the county, leaving Dade helmless, rudderless and potentially vulnerable to an undefended crime wave? Judge Brantley wrote in an email to The Planet, in response to a question about the motion to move the trial: "I will consider all non-jury matters on the 4th then pending and ripe for hearing, including that one if still pending."
The Planet will report any developments. Meanwhile, also scheduled for trial this spring term are several less-known defendants who nevertheless made their impression on this quiet rural county during the past few months:
Maksimilian Bazelyuk, accused in a hit-and-run accident on the interstate that left two teens injured on Thanksgiving night;
Brandon Bettis, who allegedly led Dade deputies on a car chase the next month that ended in gunshots at the end of a dirt road;
and Daniel Snyder, who was originally slapped with a string of charges in connection with another joyride in somebody else's Explorer the week before Christmas, a voyage that also ended in gunfire, this time from a homeowner at whose residence the allegedly purloined vehicle ultimately came to rest. Those charges have now been reduced to theft by taking, DUI, open container, suspended license and giving false name.