Thomas Huskey signed drawing
Thomas Huskey signed drawing
Thomas Dee "Zoo Man" Huskey once told authorities he killed four women.
Lawyers may debate it. Historians may reflect on it. But it now appears a jury will never decide it.
The state Supreme Court on Monday let stand a June lower court decision that guts the case against Knox County's first and only accused serial killer.
"It's over," defense attorney Herbert S. Moncier said.
Co-counsel Gregory P. Isaacs added, "Finally - justice."
A strict reading of the judgment filed by the state Court of Criminal Appeals in June would seem to back up the two attorneys' contention that the 13-year legal battle is finished.
"It is, therefore, ordered and adjudged that the judgment of the trial court is affirmed, and the case is remanded to the Criminal Court of Knox County for the dismissal of the case," the appellate court stated.
Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols is not ready to throw in the towel just yet, however.
"He killed more people than anybody in the history of this county," Nichols said. "I'm going to do my best to try to put a case together."
Even if Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner does not treat the appellate court's judgment as a direct order, Nichols faces a daunting task.
Baumgartner's ruling, which was affirmed by the appellate court and left unchallenged by the state's high court, tosses out everything that directly ties Huskey to the 1992 slayings of four women.
Gone is Huskey's confession. Barred from use at trial is the "souvenir" jewelry authorities say he took from some of his victims and the rope they say he used to bind them.
Nichols' only hope at this point would be a largely circumstantial case buried somewhere in the boxes and boxes of files the case has generated.
"Can I weave a web of circumstantial (evidence)?" Nichols wondered aloud Monday. "I'm going to make every effort."
Huskey's case is the most protracted in Knox County history and the most expensive in Tennessee history. It's been funded on the taxpayer dime. Isaacs and Moncier were appointed to represent Huskey.
Whether the state Supreme Court's refusal to hear the prosecution's appeal of the June decision that sounded this death knell is justice depends on who is asked.
Nichols is convinced that Huskey beat and strangled the four women, all thought to be prostitutes, and hid their bodies in a wooded area off Cahaba Lane in East Knox County. He is certain that Huskey turned from a rapist who stalked prostitutes and sexually battered them at a barn at the Knoxville Zoo, where his father worked as an elephant trainer, to a killer.
He points to the words from Huskey's own mouth to Knox County Sheriff's Office detectives and a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent soon after the bodies were discovered.
But the core issue has always been whether those words marked the confession of a stone-cold killer or the ranting of an insane man.
Huskey made his alleged confession via use of an alter ego, "Kyle," and his attorneys have long claimed he suffered multiple personalities.
Moncier insists that Kyle's confession to murder was a made-up tale designed by the alter ego to kill his host personality - Huskey. He says the details of Kyle's confession don't match up with crime scene evidence.
"There is certainly considerable questions in our minds whether Thomas Huskey did this or not," Moncier said Monday. "It has always been of great concern to Greg Isaacs and I that the only evidence in this case was the ramblings of an insane 'Kyle' and 'Kyle' never got the facts correct."
Nichols counters that jewelry belonging to some of the victims and rope similar to that used to bind the women was found in a bedroom of Huskey's parents' Pigeon Forge home, where Huskey was living.
He cannot use that evidence at trial because deputies arrived there via a flawed court document. Nichols had hoped the state Supreme Court would at least review his contention that Tennessee, like the federal government and many other states, should honor what's known as a "good faith exception."
Under the good faith exception, evidence obtained when officers believe the court order they are executing is legally sound should be allowed at trial even if it turns out the order was flawed.
The confession was tossed out because the appellate court ruled it was not voluntary, opining that detectives "wore down" Huskey over several days after he invoked his right to an attorney.
"We're in the minority in not having a good faith exception," Nichols said.
Isaacs said a dismissal of the case against Huskey will "validate" that the criminal justice system works for even those too poor to afford a defense dream team.
"I can't wait to give the Huskey family a big hug and close a lot of big files," he said.
He won't be giving Huskey a big hug, however. Huskey, convicted in a series of rapes preceding the Cahaba Lane slayings, is serving a 66-year prison term.
And that may have to be justice enough for Nichols.
"The chances are very strong that he will never see freedom again," Nichols said.
The drawing is signed twice, along with a short handwritten note.