On the eve of a jury trial for a Cumberland County man charged with rape, the state’s case suffered a setback when prosecutors learned the victim in the case had sent text messages to the man accused of assaulting her.

As a result, Tyler Dixon Hancock, 22, stood before special Criminal Court Judge Michael Pemberton and entered a “best interest” plea to a lesser included offense of sexual battery, an E felony, and received a two-year suspended sentence.

In addition to delays caused by the COVID-19 affect on the operation of Criminal Courts across Tennessee, the case took an unusual course through the system.

Hancock was first indicted on the charge of rape in August 2018. The state later obtained a true bill from the Cumberland County grand jury upgrading the charge to a higher class felony of aggravated rape.

By the time a special judge was ready to seat a jury to begin the trial last month, the charge had been reduced back to rape.

The original indictment was signed by Sheriff’s Investigator Tom Howard who along with Crossville Police Sgt. Dustin Lester and Ptl. Chrystal Massey investigated the allegation.

Hancock, of Herbert Houston Rd., hired Pikeville attorney Howard Upchurch to represent him leading up to a May 6 trial date. The trial never happened because of the contact between the victim and the accused.

Instead, Hancock entered the “best interest” plea, which goes down in the official record as a guilty plea, and was placed on two years of supervised probation.

In addition, Hancock will be required to register as a sex offender for at least ten years. It is not clear if at the end of that period of time, that requirement will expire.

On the original charge, Hancock was facing a fine of up to $25,000 and eight to 30 years in prison (eight to 12 years as a Range 1 offender), if convicted at trial.

An effort by Upchurch to have the plea sealed from public view was not successful.

Michael Moser may be reached at mmoser@crossville-chronicle.com

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