One day before a 20-year-old Signal Mountain man was scheduled to go on trial in Jasper for killing three people by repeatedly ramming the vehicle in which they were passengers, he entered surprise guilty pleas to four of the 16 charges he was facing.
James Timothy “JT” Meeks III was taken from the Sequatchie County Jail, where he has been held since August 2011, to the Marion County Jail during the wee morning hours on Monday.
Approximately nine hours later he appeared before Circuit Judge Thomas Graham, who sentenced him to 15 years in prison for causing the deaths of Chattanooga resident Annie E. Blevins, 24, and Nicholas Scott Clayton, 20, and Emily F. Clayton, 21, both of Sale Creek.
Further, the judge ruled, Meeks must serve another 12 years for reckless aggravated assault on the driver of Meeks’ targeted vehicle, 37-year-old Eric D. Blevins, who survived the crash and had been among the witnesses subpoenaed to testify in this week’s scheduled trial.
Meeks will receive credit for the time he has already been incarcerated on charges related to the fatal wreck, Judge Graham said.
The charges against Meeks grew out of a road-rage-related crash on remote Big Fork Road on Suck Creek Mountain around 4 a.m. on June 4, 2011.
Three months later, in August 2011, grand jurors returned 16 indictments against Meeks, including three that charged him with “unlawfully and recklessly (killing the three victims) during the perpetration of the attempted first-degree murder of Eric Blevins.”
Meeks fled the scene but was located days later in jail in Gordon County, Ga., where he signed a voluntary waiver of his rights before being interrogated by Georgia officers concerning a theft in that county.
Shortly afterward, he was questioned at length by two different groups of officers from Tennessee – neither of which read him his rights, prosecutors admitted, because he had already waived them prior to the earlier interrogation by Georgia officers.
Further, according to court documents, despite Meeks’ objections the officers pressured him to talk to them by saying that the three dead victims were to be buried the next day and that it would comfort their families to know what had happened to their loved ones before they “put them in the ground.”
“While it may be true that a confession from Mr. Meeks may have eased the minds of the victims’ families on the evening before the three funerals, and while it may have been convenient for the officers to extract an immediate confession rather that waiting . . . (the law) specifically provides that a suspect has the right to cut off questioning in order to control the time at which the questioning occurs, the subjects being discussed and the duration of the interrogation,” defense attorneys Keith Davis and Bob Morgan argued in a motion filed with the court.
The judge agreed, prohibiting prosecutors from using much of their evidence – including his confession – against Meeks in court.
Judge Graham also ruled that incriminating telephone calls Meeks made from the Georgia jail to girlfriend Amber Bankston, father Tim Meeks and friend Josh Johnson after confessing were “fruit of the poisonous tree” and also could not be introduced as evidence during the trial.
In addition to his time in prison, Judge Graham ordered Meeks to pay restitution for stolen vehicles to Teresa Staples of Signal Mountain, who is owed $2,861.53; and to Robert Vernon Greeson of Gordon County, Ga., who is owed $2,350.