Death Penalty Group Notes Tennessee Man on Death Row Wrongly Accused of Murder, Blames Errors at Trial

By Olivia Biliunas

MEMPHIS, TN – A Tennessee man, Jessie Dotson, has been sentenced to death for allegedly killing six people, including his brother and two children, in 2008, but Dotson, in a writ of habeas corpus, writes he is innocent and that during the trial errors were made.

According to an article by the Death Penalty Information Center, there were three survivors of the attack, one of them the accused’s nephew, C.J. Dotson.

In the DPIC article, “Tennessee Death Row Prisoner’s New Appeal Alleges Innocence, Prosecutorial Misconduct, and Ineffective Counsel,” and the author also said defense counsel now admits C.J.’s eyewitness testimony was unreliable and argues the killings were part of a gang retaliation.

“The petition alleges that the crime scene was characteristic of a ‘total blackout order,’ which is an order to kill a target’s entire family,” the article reports.

C.J.’s testimony was heavily used by the prosecutors at the time of the trial, states DPIC, adding that C.J.’s first interview with a trained forensic child advocate showed he named two suspects and was able to repeat what both subjects said.

But the DPIC article also mentions that the interview was deemed incomplete because C.J. was too distressed at the time of the interview. Furthermore, according to the article, the prosecutors never told the defense that C.J.’s psychologist deemed his memory unreliable.

The article notes, “He would eventually name Mr. Dotson as the person responsible for the killings, but Mr. Dotson’s new filings argue that C.J.’s memory had been ‘tampered’ with by police officers and that he was not in the right state of mind to identify anyone.”

Furthermore, the article states, “The petition also points to C.J.’s medical records indicating he was on ‘mind-altering medications’ when he was interviewed, including morphine, propofol, and hydrocodone and fentanyl.”

The report communicated, “In violation of established protocol, police Sergeant Caroline Mason then questioned C.J., and the petition alleges the Sgt. Mason told C.J. about gifts he would receive if he named a suspect,” and Linda Steele, an FBI expert, interviewed C.J. just four days after the police interview with Sgt. Mason, but her report was never passed over to the defense.

It is outlined by DPIC that “Mr. Dotson’s petition also describes the seven-hour-interrogation he endured while being ‘sleep deprived and psychologically manipulated,’ all the while maintaining his innocence.” Furthermore, the article said Dotson invoked his right to remain silent and asked for an attorney, while the police continued the interrogation.

The petition explained, “Over the course of the evening, Lt. Armstrong threatened to arrest Jessie’s mother, Priscilla Shaw, and sister, Nicole Dotson. He threatened to kill Jessie. He threatened to put Jessie in general population with the Gangster Disciples in the jail at 201 Poplar and let them kill him.

“He lied to Jessie and told him that they had Jessie’s footprints in blood at the (crime) scene. He made promises to Jessie, but told him he had to hurry or else Lt. Armstrong couldn’t help him. And then, he repeatedly played the tape of C.J. saying that Jessie did it. Jessie broke. He confessed.”

The article reports that, despite this confession, the crime scene evidence and Dotson’s statements do not match and that he was not aware of his Miranda rights before signing the confession.

About The Author

Olivia Biliunas is a fourth year student at UC Davis pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and a minor in Professional Writing. With a passion for the field of law she hopes to one day find herself making an impact on other people's lives as a lawyer. In her spare time she loves to go skiing and wakesurfing.

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