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After defamatory campaign, voters kick under-performing incumbent in the teeth

Chantal M. Eldridge, former Cookeville attorney,

overcomes scurrilous campaign to unseat Texas judge

AUSTN, Texas (March 7, 2018) -- Chantal M. Eldridge, whose sister Darlene was murdered in an unprosecuted Cookeville arson fire 25 years ago, defeated incumbent David Crain by a better than 2-1 margin Tuesday and will succeed him on Texas' 331st criminal court bench.

Crain's shelf-life had passed the use-by date, Eldridge said in her campaign. Chantal M. EldridgeAfter three decades on the bench, defendants with cases before Crain languished in jail more than four months awaiting trial, the longest of any of the felony courts in the county.

According to unofficial returns, Eldridge beat Crain 69-31 percent, receiving more than double the votes for the incumbent, 68,105 to 30,225.

Eldridge's experience with the justice system in Tennessee has given her a perspective few other candidates can match: her sister was murdered, dying 11 days after a November 11, 1992 arson fire. The investigation was botched, records were concealed and Eldridge's brother, Fabien, was prosecuted for beating up a suspect in the murder by a pair of local attorneys who stood to profit in a civil case if Fabien were convicted. Former District Attorney General William E. Gibson was disbarred in 2009 for an unethical relationship with a prisoner his office prosecuted, but was reinstated in 2016. Gibson, who had a disgraceful history as state prosecutor, has repeatedly denied he used cocaine with Darlene Eldridge or her former boyfriend, who was a suspect in the arson/murder.

Meanwhile, according to Austin newspaper reports, Eldridge faced questions of her own concerning a 2006 Austin police investigation into allegations she had sex with a 16-year-old exchange student from Brazil who was living at her home. Police did not find facts sufficient to bring charges against Eldridge, who denied wrongdoing and accused Crain’s backers of “dirty politics” for leaking information about the investigation. While the age of consent in Brazil is 14, that would not make her immune from prosecution if the unsubstantiated allegations were proved.

Byron (Low Tax) Looper dies in prison after guards forceably remove him from cell

June 26, 2013:"Tennessee Department of Corrections Commissioner Derrick Schofield asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to lead a probe into the circumstances of Looper’s death, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Russell Johnson, district attorney general for the 9th Judicial District, which includes Morgan County, approved the request.

Details remained sketchy Wednesday afternoon, but the district attorney general said he was told corrections officers “had to restrain and remove Looper as a result of an incident possibly involving other inmates” about 9 a.m. Wednesday, and Looper was taken for medical treatment before being placed in a medical isolation cell.

Looper was found dead an hour later, Johnson said he was told. More from Knoxville News Sentinel

More on Byron(Low Tax) Looper:

Latest story showing dog-killer Eric Hall's and Trooper Bush's cowardice

Appeals court affirms ruling for family

whose dog was shot by Cookeville officer

"The troopers put the Smoaks into separate patrol cars, after which Bush and Hall can be seen on the videotape grinning and laughing."

-- Court of Appeals opinion

Read the Court's opinion (Sept. 3, 2009)

"As the Smoaks knelt on the pavement and troopers applied the handcuffs, the two Cookeville officers — one wielding an assault rifle and the other a shotgun — prowled a few feet away, their raised guns tight against their shoulders and trained on the Smoaks. Although this gesture was superficially menacing and surely intended as an intimidating show of force, the way these two officers paced and shuffled behind the troopers, wavering guns gripped white-knuckled in their hands, exhibits such nervousness and fear that, even on video, the tension is palpable and the ensuing events are almost predictable.


Allen Fredrickson photo

Police families who came out to support Police Officer Eric Hall must feel pretty stupid today when the national press is reporting on the Court of Appeals opinion, which paints Hall and Trooper David Bush as cowardly thugs.


"It is also worth noting that, prior to trial, the troopers testified that pointing a gun at a suspect, absent the justification for deadly force, is a significant departure from customary professional police practices, and that the correct position of an officer’s gun is in the “down ready” position until deadly force is warranted. Nothing in this record provides a justification for deadly force, and this was not the 'down ready' position.

"Meanwhile, handcuffed on the side of the highway and still wholly uninformed about why they had been stopped, the Smoaks asked the troopers several times to “please shut the door[s]” of the station wagon so that their dogs would not escape from the car onto the highway. The troopers ignored these requests. When Mrs. Smoak’s son, Brandon, asked Trooper Phann if he could close the passenger-side door, Phann ordered him not to move. Lieutenant Andrews approached the driver’s side of the car, determined that there were no other passengers, and closed the driver-side door. At this point, Mrs. Smoak can be heard clearly, saying: “My dog is not mean, he will not hurt you.”

"While Phann was handcuffing Brandon, the Smoak’s one-year-old bulldog/bull terrier mix, General Patton, jumped from the still-open passenger-side door and — with ears up and tail wagging — bounded through the tall grass alongside the highway. According to the Smoaks, the dog was headed toward James Smoak, but Eric Hall, the Cookeville police officer with the shotgun, moved to intercept; according to Hall, however, the dog was pursuing him and he was retreating in fear.

"Either way, Hall back-peddled in a slight semi-circle, toward the handcuffed, prone, and nowshouting Smoaks, with the excited dog following (tail wagging vigorously). Then, directly in front of the camera, when the dog had almost reached Hall, Hall stopped, leaned down with the shotgun and — with the gun’s muzzle almost touching the dog’s face — fired. The dog’s head exploded in a mist of blood, bone, and brain, and its lifeless body dropped from the camera’s view."