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Judge: Tallent will serve sentences consecutively
Aug 25, 2004 12:00 am
Fallon Tallent sat in stone-faced silence while being sentenced to spend the rest of her life behind bars for a high-speed, 150-mile chase that ended in death for two local law enforcement officers on Interstate 40.
Though the grisly, fatal finale of the long, pulse-pounding chase sent emotional echoes reverberating across Wilson County for months afterward, the young woman responsible for the deadliest day in local law enforcement history appeared outwardly calm while learning she will never be free again.
The 22-year-old Maryville native displayed no hint of emotion as Judge John Wootten Jr. ruled the two life sentences she received in her highly publicized June trial must be served consecutively, which means she will be at least 102 before becoming eligible for early release, in effect putting the self-professed drug addict and prostitute in prison for the rest of her life.
The widows of slain Mt. Juliet Police Sgt. Jerry Mundy and Wilson County Sheriff's Department Deputy John Musice shared a tearful, congratulatory embrace mere seconds after Wootten adjourned the hearing in the same courtroom where Tallent was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.
"We're very satisfied," Trish Mundy said softly, her wide eyes rimmed with tears as she left the courtroom surrounded by relatives, many of them weeping quietly.
"I don't feel sorry at all for her," said Musice's stepson, James Avery. "She hasn't shown one bit of remorse for what she did."
If Tallent – as victims' families and prosecutors have maintained – failed to show remorse for the deaths of the two officers, she also failed to outwardly react while learning she will never again be free.
As Wootten outlined three specific reasons for imposing consecutive life terms, Tallent sat impassively alongside defense attorney David Boyd, only rarely glancing at the judge, appearing to read from a stack of documents while occasionally jotting down notes.
Tallent – who appeared in court Monday considerably thinner than during her weeklong, highly publicized trial – maintained her demeanor as Wootten announced his decision. She remained slouched in her seat as the sentence was imposed, her face expressionless before breaking into a slight smile that vanished almost as soon as it appeared, seeming to nod briefly toward the judge.
Tallent was taken into custody seconds after a horrific July 9, 2003, incident at the Mt. Juliet interchange of Interstate 40 where two officers were killed instantly when struck by a stolen Mercedes she was driving at over 100 miles per hour. According to trial testimony, the two had just deployed a so-called stinger strip designed to flatten her tires and end her flight from police when they were fatally struck.
Whether or not Tallent intentionally aimed her vehicle at the two victims became the focal point of her trial with Wootten Monday recalling from the stand portions of the testimony regarding the officers' deaths.
He estimated based on trial testimony, Tallent had "six or seven seconds" to avoid the victims as she sped toward them in the instant after the spike strip was deployed.
"Time to say 'Watch this,'" Wootten said, recalling the testimony of passenger Dorothy Cash, who quoted Tallent as uttering those two words as she steered the vehicle toward the victims.
The judge said such testimony along with "physical evidence" at the crash site led him to believe "the facts have clearly established there was little or no regard for human life" shown by the defendant.
Wootten also cited two other enhancing factors in issuing the sentence – Tallent was on probation at the time of the crash and already had an "extensive" prior arrest record at the time of the deaths.
"All three facts I have to consider under the law have been met by a preponderance of the evidence … and arguably beyond any reasonable doubt," the judge said.
The only witness in the hearing, probation officer Doug Grooms, testified in compiling a pre-sentencing report on Tallent for the state Department of Corrections, he found a total of 14 convictions among the "numerous charges" on her record, though he told the court the defendant estimated her number of convictions much higher.
Grooms testified Tallent described a troubled home life as a youngster, saying she started drinking at age 9, taking drugs by 13 and was using cocaine by the time she turned 16.
Yet under questioning by District Attorney General Tommy Thompson, Grooms also testified Tallent had displayed no regrets over the deaths of the two officers, both of whom left behind several children.
"Did she show any remorse at all about any of this?" Thompson asked.
"No, she did not," Grooms answered.
Though on cross-examination, the probation officer admitted Tallent had said she was instructed by her attorney not to discuss specifics about the officers. Thompson returned to ask Grooms about her demeanor during his interview with her, which he had earlier described as pleasant and happy.
"She was also happy … she never expressed a concern for anyone else, did she?" Thompson asked.
"No, she did not," Groom replied again.
In his closing argument, Thompson emphasized the "very little remorse" Tallent has seemingly shown and told Wootten she did not deserve mercy because of her young age, perhaps preparing for the defense argument for leniency.
"It's terrible to see a defendant this young in this type of trouble, but it's equally terrible to see middle-aged officers cut down in the prime of their lives, in the prime of their families' lives," Thompson said.
Boyd told the court his client could not "exercise subjective judgment" because of her young age and because of the intensity of the chase and ensuing crash as well.
Boyd also invoked Tallent's age a second time, telling Wootten if he allowed the sentences to be served concurrently "she would still be at least 74 before she's even eligible for parole."
After Wootten rejected the defense argument and ordered the sentences served consecutively, relatives of the fallen officers reacted much as they did when Tallent was found guilty by a jury two months ago.
"It was what she deserved. She didn't deserve to be free again," Avery said after the hearing.
However, he acknowledged Tallent's life in prison won't completely diminish the pain of lives lived without fathers.
"We'll always have it. It's something we won't ever forget, can't ever forget," Musice's stepson said. "We have to just try to find a way to learn to live with it."
Thompson, who described his initial reaction to the sentence as "relief," said after the hearing he felt Tallent' s lack of regret over her actions was one of the hallmarks of the entire case. The defendant took the stand in her own defense during the trial and denied intentionally striking the victims, but never expressed regret over the officers' deaths.
Thompson said he was "somewhat surprised" Tallent didn't take the stand again Monday, speculating her seeming lack of remorse may have been one reason she remained silent.
"She hasn't shown any remorse from day one," Thompson said. "It's interesting that the probation officer brought that out. It just hasn't been there – she has shown no remorse, no concern for life, at all."
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.