|Former Weakley Co. Deputy Pleads Guilty To Murder |
|By Tracy Sharp |
Weakley County Press
It has been four years since former Weakley County Sheriff’s deputy Claudell Carpenter walked into the Greenfield apartment of his estranged wife and shot Joe Martin repeatedly at close range.
Since that infamous evening when Carpenter fled the scene of the crime where Martin lost his life, the Martin and Carpenter families have had four years of arraignments, hearings, indictments, a jury conviction and an appeal that could have ignited a second murder trial.
Joe Martin’s widow, Karen, who has been in ill health recently, said after the hearing, “You’ll never have closure for how you feel about the murder. But, we did need closure through this legal process. I don’t know if I could have gone through all of this again.”
The murder trial of Carpenter has been a roller coaster for the family, and the court system, during the legal process. A jury found Carpenter guilty of first-degree murder on Nov. 2, 2005. Presiding Circuit Court Judge William Acree overturned the verdict, dropping the charge down to voluntary manslaughter.
Felony first-degree murder has a life sentenced attached, while voluntary manslaughter would have netted Carpenter six years.
On Thursday, Carpenter stood in front of Acree in Weakley County Circuit Court after a ruling from the The Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals which cited: “Following a jury trial, the defendant, Claudell Watkins Carpenter, was convicted of second degree murder, first degree murder in the perpetration of a burglary, especially aggravated burglary, and aggravated assault. Additionally, the defendant pled guilty to evading arrest. Pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 29, he filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, which the trial court subsequently granted as to certain of the convictions, reducing the second degree murder conviction to voluntary manslaughter and dismissing the first degree murder and aggravated assault convictions. The defendant then was sentenced as a Range I, standard offender to six years for the voluntary manslaughter conviction, twelve years for the especially aggravated burglary conviction, and eleven months, twenty-nine days for the evading arrest conviction, with all sentences to be served concurrently.”
The state appealed and Judge Acree’s decision was overruled and it also cited “Accordingly, we remand this matter to the trial court for disposition of the motion for new trial so that a single appeal will result from the defendant’s trial.”
Instead, Carpenter plead guilty to second-degree murder in a negotiated plea bargain agreement. Judge Acree asked the defendant if he realized that he could have a new trial, but Carpenter agreed to the plea arrangement.
In the period of time since Martin’s homicide, Carpenter had faced life in prison, then six years but, ultimately with his guilty admission, received 20 years for the crime that left two families devastated.
“I felt at the time that we indicted him, and during the trial, he was guilty of first-degree murder,” Tommy Thomas, 27th Judicial District Attorney, said after Thursday’s hearing. “The court was willing to grant a new trial. I spoke to the widow and other victims in the case including the defendant’s ex-wife. They were interested in closure and putting this matter behind them.”
“In light of all that has happened, I feel a settlement was reached and was fair under the circumstances,” Thomas added.
“Claudell Carpenter is a good man,” Public Defender Joe Atnip countered in a handwritten statement. “He was a good soldier and a good peace officer. He should be punished for his crime but he shouldn’t have to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“Like most plea agreements, the 20-year sentence is a compromise,” Atnip wrote.
Carpenter has been incarcerated since his arrest in June 2004. Thomas asked for him to be considered a violent offender, which means that he would serve 85 percent of the full 20 years.
With Thursday’s guilty plea and with time served, the convicted felon will serve roughly 13 more years with the Tennessee Department of Corrections.