Defendants Convicted in Torture Slayings Get New Trial Because of Judge’s Pill Addiction

Four defendants convicted in the 2007 torture slayings of a University of Tennessee student and her boyfriend will get new trials because of evidence that the judge in their case was committing crimes to obtain prescription medications.

The judge, Richard Baumgartner of Knox County, Tenn., resigned from the bench earlier this year and pleaded guilty to a criminal misconduct charge. In a decision last Thursday, Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood said defendants whose trials were heard by Baumgartner could reasonably claim the judge was biased toward the prosecution because he was “doctor shopping” to get the pills and feared getting caught, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.

Blackwood said Baumgartner was committing the crime of doctor shopping in 2008, and later enlisted a graduate of his drug court program to buy pills, according to a separate story by the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Associated Press.

Blackwood said Baumgartner was taking as many as 30 pills a day and was intoxicated during parts of the trials for the murders of student Channon Christian and her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom.

Blackwood released portions of a report by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation that included an interview with the judge’s clerk, Jennifer Judy, who sometimes rescheduled Baumgartner’s hearings when he appeared to be too impaired to work, according to AP and another story by the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Judy said she thought that prosecutors and lawyers were aware of what was going on, but they were reluctant to confront the judge.

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