Press Releases

Haslam Creates Task Force on Sentencing, Recidivism

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; August 14, 2014:

Group to develop legislative and policy recommendations

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the formation of the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism as part of the administration’s overall effort to reduce crime and improve public safety.

In June, the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet announced a partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice to review sentencing and correction policies and practices. The creation of a task force is the next step in that collaboration.

“We have put a strong emphasis on addressing some of our state’s toughest safety challenges head on, and the Public Safety Subcabinet is doing great work,” Haslam said. “This task force is a next step in making sure we have a comprehensive approach to public safety in Tennessee. I am grateful to the Tennesseans who have agreed to dedicate their time to these issues, and I look forward to their recommendations.”

Members of the task force include:

  • John Campbell, criminal court judge, Memphis
  • John DeBerry, state representative, Memphis
  • James Dunn, district attorney general, 4th judicial district
  • Tim Fuller, sheriff, Franklin County
  • Bill Gibbons, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
  • Mark Gwyn, director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Kim Helper, district attorney general, 21st judicial district
  • Torry Johnson, district attorney general (retired), Nashville
  • Brian Kelsey, state senator, Germantown
  • William Lamberth, state representative, Cottontown
  • Linda Leathers, chief executive officer, The Next Door
  • William B. Lee, chief executive officer, Lee Company of Tennessee
  • Jon Lundberg, state representative, Bristol
  • Mark Luttrell, mayor, Shelby County
  • Becky Duncan Massey, state senator, Knoxville
  • Gerald Melton, public defender, 16th judicial district
  • Richard Montgomery, chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Seth Norman, criminal court judge, Nashville
  • Bill Oldham, sheriff, Shelby County
  • David Rausch, chief of police, Knoxville
  • Derrick Schofield, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • John Stevens, state senator, Huntingdon
  • Blair Taylor, president, Memphis Tomorrow
  • D. Kelly Thomas, court of criminal appeals judge, Knoxville
  • Doug Varney, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
  • Amy Weirich, district attorney general, Shelby County
  • Verna Wyatt, executive director, Tennessee Voices for Victims

The current sentencing structure in Tennessee has been in place for more than 20 years. An examination will ensure that the structure is in line with the variety and severity of criminal behavior. Establishing an effective set of sentencing laws can resolve inconsistencies and avoid discrepancies that compromise public safety.

The task force will receive assistance from the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. Vera staff will conduct data and policy analysis; identify expertise and resources to support the work of the task force; facilitate meetings and assist in the development of the task force recommendations.

The Vera Institute of Justice is a national, independent, non-partisan justice policy and research organization based in New York. Vera has decades of experience partnering with state and local governments across the United States to improve justice systems.

The task force will submit its recommendations to the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet by June 2015.

The subcabinet was created by Haslam in 2011 and launched a multi-year public safety action plan in 2012. The group includes commissioners of the departments of Safety and Homeland Security, Correction, Mental Health, Children’s Services, Health and Military, along with the chairman of the Tennessee Board of Parole, directors of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, Office of Criminal Justice Programs, Law Enforcement Training Academy and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Press Releases

Ramsey Appoints Stevens to West TN River Basin Authority

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; February 12, 2013:

(February 12, 2013, NASHVILLE) – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) today announced the appointment of Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon) to the West Tennessee River Basin Authority, a division of the state’s Environment and Conservation Department.

“John Stevens is an outstanding young lawyer and an excellent freshman member of the Senate,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “I have every confidence that he will do West Tennessee proud on this commission.”
“Our waterways are central to this state’s economy and critical to West Tennessee’s way of life,” said Sen. Stevens. “I look forward to finding innovative ways to conserve our beautiful natural resources while protecting the rights of property owners. I’d like to thank Lt. Governor Ramsey for allowing me to serve West Tennessee on the Authority.”

Administratively attached to the Department of Environment and Conservation, the West Tennessee River Basin Authority was created in 1972 to preserve the natural flow and function of the Hatchie, Loosahatchie, Obion and Forked Deer River basins.

Covering a twenty-county area of West Tennessee comprised of Lauderdale, Lake, Dyer, Obion, Madison, Weakley, Henry, Gibson, Carroll, Benton, Decatur, Hardin, Haywood, Crockett, Henderson, Chester, McNairy, Tipton, Fayette and Hardeman Counties, the authority is made up of 31 members that include state lawmakers, county mayors and state conservation, agriculture and wildlife officials.

Press Releases

TNDP: Stevens Admits Wrongdoing in Karas’ Estate Alteration

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; September 19, 2012: 

State Senate Candidate Stevens Admits Own Wrongdoing In Signed Affidavit and Here it Is. John Stevens, the Republican state Senate candidate in District 24, admitted — in a signed official affidavit — to preying on an elderly, dying woman.

This is Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s pick… and Congressman Steve Fincher’s pick… and Sen. Bob Corker’s attending an event with Stevens on Oct. 2..

What do they think about a man who would commit a fraudulent act to alter a dying woman’s estate and deny the cancer-stricken children of St. Jude’s of additional resources?

John Stevens office number: (731) 986-9742
Carol Andrews: 615-347-0193 Thompson Email Alleges Wrongdoing September 18th, 2012 – By Charles Choate

MARTIN – Carol Andrews, Campaign Manager for District 24 State Senate Candidate Brad Thompson, today released official court documents showing that candidate John Stevens admitted to an unethical and unlawful act involving interference with the wishes of a dying woman to leave her estate to helping sick and troubled children.

In 2010, Stevens signed an official affidavit admitting to his wrongdoing. Andrews made the following statement and provided background materials on the story:

“Some disturbing news has come to my attention regarding our opponent in this race. This is an incredible story and one that voters deserve to know. It illustrates that John Stevens is a man who simply cannot be trusted.

“The story I am relating is all readily available in the Circuit and Chancery Court Clerks’ offices in the Carroll County Courthouse just across the street from John Stevens’ law office.

Official court documents show that John Stevens broke Tennessee law by interfering with a dying woman’s wish to leave her estate to St. Jude’s Children Hospital – to a hospital known around the world for caring for children with cancer — and Youth Town of Tennessee, a center here in West Tennessee that helps troubled youth.

“According to official court documents, John Stevens lied to nurses in a Jackson hospital to gain access to the dying woman’s bedside to tear up her will.

“Her name was Ruth Karas.

“Mrs. Karas was in a coma. John Stevens had already drawn up other papers putting other people in control of the woman’s estate.

“Mrs. Karas died a day after John Stevens tore up her will.

“John Stevens’ acts were unethical and according to the Tennessee Code Annotated, a felony.

“On his web site, John Stevens claims that “he is an attorney in private practice helping families and farmers with elder law and estate planning,” yet he helped prey upon an elderly woman as she lay dying.

“John Stevens later signed an official affidavit admitting that he committed this act. He agreed with a nurse’s deposition that he tore up the will of an elderly woman as she lay dying in a coma. John Stevens had even been so craven as to ask this nurse to video his act on his telephone.

“John Stevens was not the dying woman’s attorney and had not previously been involved in her will.

“According to Tennessee Code Annotated, Stevens’ act is against the law. It is most certainly unethical and heinous to interfere with a dying woman’s wish to leave her estate to an interest to help children with cancer.

“Voters deserve to know this about John Stevens. This shows that he certainly cannot be trusted.”

Background, according to Official Court documents:

Widow Ruth Karas of Huntingdon had sizeable estate – in six figures.

In 2002, with attorney Walton West, she executed a will leaving her entire estate to be split equally to St. Jude and Youth Town.

In 2003, Ruth Karas executed a new will, again with attorney Walton West, that was similar to the first but carving out $100,000 in trust for her brother, Earl Allen, should he survive her.

On November 11, 2009 as Ruth Karas lay dying, Peggy and John Wilkes asked John Stevens to prepare a Power of Attorney for Mrs. Karas.

Peggy Wilkes had a confidential relationship with Ruth Karas so knew of her funds and estate plans.

Walton West was Ruth Karas’ attorney; not John Stevens.

John Stevens prepared the Karas Revocable Living Trust, which Peggy Wilkes executed under Power of Attorney. The Trust allowed Peggy Wilkes and Earl Allen to divide the Karas assets equally upon Ruth Karas’ death. [Numerous court documents]

Ruth Karas intended her assets to benefit troubled teens and children with cancer, not John and Peggy Wilkes.

On November 15, 2009, John Stevens went to work. He concocted a tale to gain entry to Ruth Karas’ beside in ICU at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. He told nurse Amy Naylor he was Ruth Karas’ attorney to gain access. While there, he tore up Ruth Karas’ will that left her estate to St. Jude and Youth Town – the will intended to help children with cancer and troubled teens.

Nurse Amy Naylor said in deposition that John Stevens told her Ruth Karas had called for him to come on business about her estate. Amy Naylor informed him that Ruth Karas was in ICU and in a coma. John Stevens lied and told her Ruth Karas called before she had been moved to ICU in a coma. He told Amy Naylor he must tear up the will in her presence.

“I explained to him that she was not conscious and would not know that he was in the room . . . He said that was okay. He just needed to be in her physical presence to tear up her will.” [6/29/10, Deposition, Estate of Ruth Karas/ Youth Town of TN, Inc. and St Jude’s Children Hospital, Inc. v Earl Allen, and Youth Town of TN/ St. Jude v Peggy Wilkes and Earl Allen]

John Stevens even asked the Amy Naylor to film him ripping the will into four parts. Amy Naylor obliged. She used Stevens’s phone.

“. . . and he asked me if I would videotape him doing so on his cell phone so he would have proof.” [6/29/10, Deposition, Estate of Ruth Karas/ Youth Town of TN, Inc. and St Jude’s Children Hospital, Inc. v Earl Allen, and Youth Town of TN/St. Jude v Peggy Wilkes and Earl Allen]

“He made a statement to the fact that it was at her request and that he was in her physical presence, and he had the will. And he tore it up, and that was the end of it.” [6/29/10, Deposition, Estate of Ruth Karas/ Youth Town of TN, Inc. and St Jude’s Children Hospital, Inc. v Earl Allen, and Youth Town of TN/St. Jude v Peggy Wilkes and Earl Allen ]

John Stevens had never been Ruth Karas attorney. In a signed affidavit, John Stevens admits Ruth Karas was not “competent” to talk about her will while he ripped it into four pieces. [2/2/10]

“Based on my observations of Mrs. Karas, I agree with the nurse that Mrs. Karas was not competent at the time I was present in her hospital room on November 15, 2009.”

As John Stevens drew a new will called the Karas Revocable Trust that left the estate to the Wilkes, he dispatched the couple to the Karas accounts in five different area banks to transfer her funds into one. They had to work quickly; Ruth Karas would soon be dead.

St. Jude and Youth Town, along with Ruth Karas’ friend and executor Brenda Brown subsequently sued. In mediation, John Stevens worked to get himself out of trouble by admitting his wrongdoing.

John Stevens’ actions break ethics rules, and could have been subject to a Class E Felony under TCA.

TCA 39-14-131 Any person who destroys or conceals the last will and testament of a testator, or any codicil thereto, with intent to prevent the probate thereof or defraud any devisee or legatee, commits a Class E felony.

Penalty for Class E felony under Tennessee law: Not less than 1 year nor more than 6 years in prison. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed $3,000 unless otherwise provided by statute.

St. Jude and Youth Town have settled to receive most of the estate to which they were intended. The Wilkes, however, have received part of this estate.

There’s another angle: In 2011, Peggy Wilkes said the scheme was John Stevens’ idea.

“John Stevens discussed other aspects of Ruth Karas’ estate with me in that he gave me directions on how to fund the Trust that Ruth Karas had established by changing the ownership of the assets to fund the trust. John Stevens gave me directions on going to the banks in which Ruth Karas had accounts so that the accounts could be transferred into the Trust.” [6/9/11, Youth Town of Tennessee, Inc. and St. Jude’s Children Hospital Inc. v Peggy Wilkes, Earl Allen, and Frances Laws, as Trustee of the Karas Revocable Living Trust]