Billy Hawk Deciding Which Attorney To Use In Retrial

Monday, May 20, 2019

Billy Hawk, who was given a new trial after being convicted of a murder that happened 35 years ago, is deciding which lawyer to use this time around.

In an appearance before Criminal Court Judge Don Poole on Monday, he was with attorneys Frank Lannom and Melanie Bean of Lebanon, Tn.

However, attorney Lannom said they had not yet been retained.

Judge Poole gave Hawk until June 21 to come up with a lawyer.

He remains in jail under a $600,000 bond on the charge involving the murder of Johnny Mack Salver. Hawk was sentenced to life in prison after his conviction in June 2016. His bond earlier was $500,000.

Judge Poole said he "raised it slightly" after the jury conviction.


The 1981 cold case murder had been reopened in 2015 after almost 35 years of silence. Witness testimony in the trial ranged from expert forensics agents to friends and family of both Hawk and Salyer.

Judge Poole, who granted the new trial, said testimony by Cleveland attorney Jim Logan "that he made mistakes but the other defense lawyers made non-tactical mistakes amounting to ineffective assistance of counsel is troubling."

He said attorney Logan was Hawk's first lawyer and "was clearly upset" when Hawk later chose Chattanooga attorney Bill Speek as his lead counsel. 

The judge added, "As long as a lawyer continues to represent a client, however, he should participate fully in decision making and, if certain things are not done or should be done, he should take an active role in making sure those things are done. If he cannot do this, the appropriate course would seem to be to withdraw from the case. It is sincerely hoped that any lawyer who goes to trial does his best to ensure that his client receives a fair trial."

Judge Poole said the main reason he decided to grant a new trial was based on "acts and omissions" relating to witness Terry Slaughter, a former Chattanooga Police detective who later was charged and convicted in Federal Court.

The judge noted that former District Attorney Gary Gerbitz was called as a witness and was critical of Slaughter's credibility, calling him "a crooked cop" and a liar. He said there was a heated exchange between witness Gerbitz and current District Attorney Neal Pinkston, who then asked if he was aware that Slaughter had passed lie detector tests. He said former DA Gerbitz replied, "I don't know that at all."  The judge said the questions about the polygraph tests were inappropriate and bolstered Slaughter's credibility.

The state’s narrative claimed Hawk, possibly fearing Salyer would testify against him in court after a drug-related arrest, shot the victim, stuffed him inside a steel barrel, and dropped him in the Tennessee River."

The defense contended that the majority of witness testimony was unreliable due to the number of years that had passed since the slaying.

They also pointed out several pieces of valuable evidence that had been lost or destroyed, including the barrel itself.


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