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Tallent verdict provides 'some closure'
Jul 02, 2004 12:00 am
A full day after Fallon Tallent was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of two local law officers, emotions continued to run high at the agencies the victims once served.
"I get the feeling from most everybody that there is some closure to it, at least some healing," Mt. Juliet Police Chief Kenneth Martin said of the mood among his officers yesterday in the wake of the verdict.
While friends and relatives of the fallen officers broke into hugs and muted sobs as the verdict was announced, officers in courthouse hallways exchanged handshakes and jubilant slaps on the back as word of Tallent's conviction spilled beyond the crowded, heavily guarded courtroom.
Tallent now faces the spectre of living most of the rest of her life behind bars, with the jury effectively putting her away for at least 50 years – perhaps just over 100 – before she becomes eligible for early release, depending on whether Judge John Wootten Jr. imposes the sentences consecutively or concurrently at an Aug. 23 sentencing hearing.
Sheriff Terry Ashe agreed that the healing has begun, but said that in many ways the tragedy will always live within those present at the scene in the moments after Mt. Juliet Police Sgt. Jerry Mundy and Wilson County Sheriff's Deputy John Musice were killed.
"From a time perspective, the verdict will probably help the families with their healing, I don't think there's any doubt about that," Ashe said.
But, he added, "Honestly I don't think it's ever over. There will never be total finality to it as long as any of us are still alive who were out there and saw that horrific, mangled crime scene."
Martin, who had only been police chief for about a year when the two were killed, said that more time on the job would not have made the tragedy any less painful.
"It wouldn't have mattered if I'd have been police chief for 30 years, the pain would have been just as great," Martin said.
Martin said "community support and faith" have enabled the comrades of the fallen officers – compared by District Attorney General Tommy Thompson in his closing argument to the officers who died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center – to continue with their daily lives and duties even as news of Tallent's trial dominated newscasts and newspaper headlines alike.
"When it comes to dealing with a tragedy like this, your faith is really all you have," Martin said.
The jurors surprised many officials by electing to spend an extra night in Wilson County after delivering their highly anticipated verdict, embarking on the five-hour return bus ride to Sullivan County early yesterday.
The eight-woman, four-man jury – which deliberated for some six hours before returning its guilty verdict – was described by Ashe as "really relieved" at the long, exhausting trial's conclusion.
"More than anything else, I think they were just glad it was over," he said.
Though most court officials had expected the panel to be on the road within an hour of delivering its verdict, the long ride home gave some jurors pause, the sheriff indicated.
"They all basically agreed that by the time they got packed and got on the road, it would put them home pretty late and most of them didn't want to have to get their families out at that time of night," said Ashe, whose department – along with the Circuit Court Clerk's office – watched after the jury as it was sequestered for a week.
Despite the strong reaction by others to the verdict, Tallent remained impassive, briefly closing her eyes but otherwise displaying no emotion as the jury's decision was announced. Defense attorneys said the admitted crack addict was not surprised by the guilty verdict, portraying it as another setback in a life filled with them.
The verdict came just under a year after the July 9 deaths of Mundy and Musice, who were killed near the Mt. Juliet exit of Interstate 40. Testimony showed Mundy had just deployed a spike strip designed to flatten the tires of the stolen Mercedes Tallent was driving at over 100 miles per hour when he was struck and killed instantly. Though Mundy was still in the roadway the vehicle then careened onto the shoulder, striking Musice and killing him instantly as well.
Though the defense presented witnesses who maintained the vehicle appeared out of control in the split second it approached the spike strip – also known as a 'stinger' to police – the prosecution presented numerous eyewitnesses who testified otherwise, among them a passenger in Tallent's vehicle and a Tennessee Highway Patrol accident expert who steadfastly maintained physical evidence left no doubt the officers' deaths were intentional.
Tallent – who according to testimony was introduced to crack cocaine at the age of 13 by her own mother – took the witness stand in her own defense to deny intentionally running down the victims.
Speaking so softly she was admonished several times by Wootten to speak louder, Tallent occasionally brushed away tears as she denied intentionally running down the victims.
However, officers and other officials who had contact with the jury in the hours before the panel departed Lebanon – who asked to remain anonymous – said some jurors indicated Tallent's appearance on the stand helped sway them toward a guilty verdict.
In particular, jurors seemed to have been influenced by Tallent's answers when she was cross-examined by Assistant District Attorney Bobby Hibbett, according to one official speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Tallent's lengthy pauses before answering some of the prosecutor's questions appeared to hurt her with some members of the panel, according to the source, along with her response of "I guess" when asked by Hibbett if it was true she "didn't intend to stop for anything or anybody."
The defense may have also been harmed more than helped by one of its own expert witnesses, according to the source. That witness, a physician, repeatedly said Tallent's crack cocaine addiction was so severe she would have done "whatever it takes" to obtain more of the drug.
The phrase, repeated several times on the stand by the witness, seemed "to connect the dots" for some jurors, the source said.
Senior Staff Writer Brooks Franklin can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 14 or by e-mail at email@example.com.