Monday, July 8, 2024

Homicide trial

KINGSPORT – Six years ago, a Sullivan County Grand Jury met and indicted Cody R. Webb, of Kingsport, on charges of first-degree murder in the death of a 4-year-old girl.

Six years later, he’s still awaiting a trial.

“The biggest delay in this case was COVID,” said William Harper, deputy district attorney general. “It was set for last year, but the defense asked for records from several state’s witnesses that required multiple hearings over the last six months.”

Webb found himself indicted on the charge of first-degree murder in October 2018.

But the murder and his alleged involvement began three months earlier.

On Sunday morning, Aug. 5, 2018, Kingsport officers were called to a home in Colonial Heights, finding the deceased child.

The police department immediately launched a suspicious death investigation and sent the body to the ETSU Quillen College of Medicine for an autopsy.

After the autopsy, police classified it as a homicide.

Police never released the cause of death or Webb’s relationship to the child.

But answers may soon come. A jury trial has been set for November for Webb, who also faces charges of child neglect, child abuse, tampering with evidence and violation of probation.

Why has it taken so long to prosecute a man facing murder charges?

Harper said the culprit is the pandemic that shut courts down for months then barely heard cases for years.

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued its first order declaring a state of emergency for the judicial branch on March 13, 2020.

This order suspended all in-person judicial proceedings. While courts did not close, this greatly hampered the ability of the courts to handle cases, especially jury trials.

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued several other orders throughout 2020, culminating with one on Dec. 20, 2020 that extended a ban on in-person court proceedings through January 2021 and jury trials through February 2021.

On May 14, 2021, the Court loosened some of those COVID restrictions.

“Despite things opening back up there was a palpable hesitancy on conducting jury trials,” Harper said.

He said the backlog of cases that developed from 2020 to 2021 put a large strain on resources and squeezed time that might have otherwise been used on jury trials.

Many matters continued to be handled remotely.

The case should soon see an ending and Harper said the prosecution will be ready for trial in November.

“Delays are never good for the prosecution, but at this point I do not think that it will impact our case any,” he said.

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