Nathanial Allen was convicted of ordering the 2003 murder of Donald Wilder, Jr. he was jointly tried with two others who the evidence shows committed the murder. At least one witness against him lied, an appeal ruling denying one of his appeals stated:
“The Petitioner asserts that Atkins was present at a time Brassfield testified the Petitioner discussed the murder, and Atkins would testify that the Petitioner did not discuss a murder. Atkins would also testify that Brassfield had reason to testify against the Petitioner. Although Atkins’s testimony would have been relevant to impeach Brassfield’s trial testimony, the proof at the hearing showed another defense witness, Bronson Hollifield, contradicted Brassfield’s testimony that a similar conversation occurred at another location. Additionally, at least one other witness testified to Brassfield’s reputation for lying, and Brassfield was impeached with his prior convictions and his motives to testify against the Petitioner. Finally, the record shows trial counsel did much to discredit Brassfield’s testimony.”
Other witnesses were very dubious, and another witness who should have testified to a crucial meeting that allegedly implicated Nathaniel did not testify at all.
The State’s case
Nathanial did not take part in the killing, but he requested the murder be committed, provided drugs to assist in the killing, and provided money and drugs in exchange for the killing. George Arthur Lee Smith was the shooter and Shannon Lee Jarnigan assisted.
Connie D. Lawson, George Smith’s sister, testified that she talked with George Smith while they were at her house and that he was crying “really hard.” He told her that he had shot the victim in the back of the head. Jarnigan, who was also in the room, said, “We killed him execution style.”. Lawson testified that she refused to speak with the Defendants’ lawyers in preparation for this case because she had been threatened and did not know who to trust. Lawson conceded that the State’s attorney told her not to speak with the Defendants’ attorneys. Lawson agreed that she had previously been convicted in 1999 of misdemeanor forgery and in 2002 of criminal impersonation. She said that she violated her probation for criminal impersonation and had to serve three months in jail. Lawson said that she did not call the police after her brother and Defendant Jarnigan confessed because she did not believe what he said. More at pages 12-13 of 2007 ruling.
Michael Lynn Brassfield, Nathaniel’s brother, testified he went to the Super 8 Motel in Morristown where he saw Nathaniel and George Smith, Richard Atkins, and a girl named “Sissy.” While in the motel room, Defendant Allen mentioned two “Mexicans [who] had twenty-five thousand dollars on [the victim’s] head.” Brassfield recalled another incident around the same period of time when he was at a Days Inn in White Pine with Defendants Allen and Smith, West, and “Sissy.” While there, Nathaniel asked Brassfield and Defendant Smith to go to the bathroom with them, and he mentioned again about the two Mexicans who offered money in exchange for killing the victim. Nathaniel said that, if someone killed the victim, he would ensure they were paid. Nathaniel said that he wanted the victim killed because the victim “had indictments on him.” Brassfield agreed to kill the victim but could not get him “off the hill” ( meaning out of his house ). More at page 13 of 2007 ruling.
Phyllis West said that, on Tuesday, June 24, 2003, she and Epps went to the Days Inn Motel, and Epps paid for their room. The following day, she and Epps got a room at the Hillcrest Inn in White Pine. Later, Epps picked up Defendants Smith and Jarnigan, who rented a separate room at the same motel. Defendant Allen and a man named Darrell came to the room later with a black pistol. More at page 9 of 2007 ruling.
Danielle Lynne Epps testified that the State charged her in this case with first degree murder, alleging that she aided and abetted the Defendants in committing the victim’s murder. She testified she had reached a plea agreement with the State whereby she would plead guilty to attempt to facilitate first degree murder and testify truthfully at the Defendants’ trial in exchange for the State’s recommendation of an eight-year probationary sentence. Epps described Defendant Allen as her friend, and said Defendant Allen introduced her to Defendant Smith at the College Square Apartments in Morristown. He told her at the time of the introduction that Defendant Smith “was the one that was going to take [the victim] out.” Epps recalled another time when she heard West and Defendant Smith discuss that Defendant Smith would kill the victim. Epps said that, on June 24, 2003, she stayed at the Super 8 Motel with Defendant Smith and West. Defendant Allen made the statement that whoever “got” the victim first would get paid, but he did not disclose the amount. More at page 10 of 2007 ruling.
Stephanie Schaeffer (defense witness) testified that she knew Phyllis West well, as the two had been incarcerated together for about ten months. Schaeffer said that West discussed with her frequently the victim’s murder but never mentioned Defendant Allen’s name.
Bronson Hollifield (defense witness) testified that he has known Defendant Allen for approximately six or seven years, and, previously, he worked for the Defendant’s concrete business. Hollifield said he was present at the market when Defendant Allen saw Rucker, and Defendant Allen did not solicit anyone to kill the victim.
February, March 2001 Victim employed as an informant, victim and Nathanial contacted each other multiple times. The victim and the victim’s wife were paid confidential informants.
Febuary 2001 Michael Brassfield’s girlfriend murdered “She was beaten n had horrible burns no her face n body n around her neck was a rope n her eyes were gouged almost out .” per discussion here ).
June 24, 2003 Epps stayed at Super 8 Motel with West and Smith.
June 26, 2003 Some time after midnight, George Smith checked into Super 8 Motel located on East Andrew Johnson Highway.
June 26, 2003 Calls between the George Smith’s cell phone (# 423-312-3439) and the victim’s residence before 7:00 a.m., around the time that the victim became missing.
June 26, 2003 6:48 a.m. 3 minute call from victims phone to 423-312-3439.
June 26, 2003 6:52 a.m 1 minute call to victims phone from 423-312-3439.
July 2003 Detective Chad Smith asked by DA’s office to investigate the victim’s disappearance because the victim was an important witness in multiple pending drug cases.
August 20, 2003 Detective Chad Smith interviewed George Smith, Smith admits shooting the victim and gives a detailed account of events.
August 27, 2003 Sheriff’s Department told Agent Smith about skeletal remains found on River Road.
August 2003 Chad Mullins, a sergeant with the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department, testified that he received a message in August 2003 from Brassfield. Brassfield told Sergeant Mullins that, if the sergeant kept Brassfield’s family safe, he would take the sergeant to the victim’s body. A few days later, Brassfield took him to the body. Sergeant Mullins agreed that Brassfield told him that “another man” helped Brassfield move the body, and Brassfield did not mention Defendant Smith.
December 17, 2003 Police find .380 high point semi-automatic pistol with a laser sight and a clip or magazine in the area described by Jarnigan.
March 15, 2004 Victims wife dies.
January 2006, bond reduction request denied ( News report ).
March 2006 Nathanial, Smith and Jarnigan convicted after a single trial.
August 2011, Jarnigan’s State level appeal denied.
August 2015, Jarnigan’s federal habeas appeal is denied.
From the 2012 ruling, page 2:
Phyllis Allen, the mother of the Petitioner and Brassfield, testified that she was not called as a witness at the Petitioner’s trial and did not know why. Had she been called, she would have testified that Brassfield came to her house one day seeking money. He told her that he had committed some robberies and needed the money to flee. Brassfield threatened her, and attempted to run her over with a truck. When Brassfield was unsuccessful in getting any money from her and the rest of the family, he “said that he was going to get revenge against my son, Thomas Allen, and myself and my – daughter, Nikki Allen – Janan Allen and the whole family.”
The Petitioner asserts that Atkins was present at a time Brassfield testified the Petitioner discussed the murder, and Atkins would testify that the Petitioner did not discuss a murder. Atkins would also testify that Brassfield had reason to testify against the Petitioner. Although Atkins’s testimony would have been relevant to impeach Brassfield’s trial testimony, the proof at the hearing showed another defense witness, Bronson Hollifield, contradicted Brassfield’s testimony that a similar conversation occurred at another location. Additionally, at least one other witness testified to Brassfield’s reputation for lying, and Brassfield was impeached with his prior convictions and his motives to testify against the Petitioner. Finally, the record shows trial counsel did much to discredit Brassfield’s testimony.