Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

September 20, 2013

Bennett says he's guilty

By Michael R. Moser

CROSSVILLE — A Cumberland County man held behind bars for parole violation and a Dayton, TN, woman have been named in a ten-count indictment charging premeditated murder, felony murder and attempted aggravated robbery of four found dead on Renegade Mountain last week.

Jacob Allen Bennett, 26, Woodbridge Rd., was already in the Justice Center serving time for a parole violation for which he pleaded guilty to this week.

Brittany Lina Yvonn Moser, 25, Railroad St., Dayton, TN, was picked up at her home and brought to Crossville after the grand jury returned the indictment.

The pair are accused of the shooting deaths of Danielle "Rikki" Jacobsen, age 22; Domonic Davis, age 17; Steven Presley, age 17; and John Lajeunesse, age 16. Their bodies were found in a car on a gravel road in an undeveloped subdivision off Renegade Parkway Sept. 12.

Shackled and wearing a bright orange jail-issued jump suit, Bennett shuffled into the courtroom and stood before Judge David Patterson. The right side of the courtroom was filled with family members and friends, while on the left side were local and Knoxville news media.

Patterson started the arraignment hearing by asking Bennett if he had an attorney. "No sir," Bennett softly responded. Patterson asked if he wanted the court to appoint an attorney to represent him and again, Bennett said no. Patterson then asked if his family was going to hire an attorney for him and he replied, "No sir."

The judge then asked, "How do you plan to go forward?" to which Bennett stunned those in the courtroom by stating, "Guilty."

"It is not a good idea to go forward without an attorney," Patterson told Bennett. Again the judge asked if the defendant understood his rights, including the right to an attorney, and again asked, "What is your plan, then?"

Bennett responded, "I don't have a plan."

After discussion between Deputy District Attorney Gary McKenzie and Patterson, the judge recognized Shelbyville and former Crossville attorney, Robert Marlow, who was in the courtroom, and asked him to represent Bennett.

"I have heard what he said when I asked him how he pleads," Patterson told Marlow when the defensive attorney raised an issue with the court.

"He has an absolute right to enter plea at arraignment," Marlow said, adding that by doing so, the action would prohibit prosecutors from pursuing life without parole and/or the death penalty if a conviction were obtained.

As the issue was discussed, Bennett sat quietly at the defense table, staring downward as Marlow argued that if the arraignment hearing had been completed, the guilty plea could stand. Marlow then suggested that the arraignment be continued until Oct. 3. Bennett could consult with Marlow before that date and could still enter the plea if he wished.

McKenzie told the court that at the very minimum, the state would be seeking to enhance the charges to qualify for life without parole sentences. The death penalty issue remains open.

After the hearing, McKenzie said that if the judge had accepted the guilty plea, it could be grounds for a reversal later in the appeals court. It would also effectively remove the death penalty or life without parole consideration because the state has not had time to file formal notice of enhancement of the sentences, should Bennett be found guilty.

At the end of the hearing, it was decided by Patterson that Bennett would be held without bond and arraignment continued to 9 a.m. on Oct. 3.

Once Bennett left the courtroom, Moser was led in and had quite a different exchange with Patterson. When asked if she understood what she was being charged with, she replied no.

"I don't understand robbery and all that," Moser said, "cause I didn't do all those things."

Moser told the court that neither she, nor her family, could afford to hire an attorney and that she wanted a court-appointed lawyer. Patterson then appointed Crossville attorney Kevin Bryant to represent Moser.

Bryant waived formal reading of the indictment, entered a not guilty plea on behalf of Moser and agreed to have the case continued to Oct. 3 at which time the issue of bond might be discussed.