Note: This story was updated at 5:20 p.m.
CLINTON—A public defender has asked for a three-year suspended sentence for Lee Cromwell, the Oak Ridge man convicted of one count of vehicular homicide and eight counts of aggravated assault in the fatal parking lot crash at Midtown Community Center after fireworks on July 4, 2015.
The three-year suspended sentence would be much less than what prosecutors have requested, an effective 11-year sentence.
Cromwell, 67, has a sentencing hearing scheduled with Senior Judge Paul Summers in Anderson County Criminal Court in Clinton at 1 p.m. Monday, June 19.
The July 4 fireworks crash killed James Robinson of Knoxville, a 37-year-old husband and father who was trying to push his two daughters to safety. The crash injured eight others. It’s one of the worst crashes anyone can remember in Oak Ridge.
Cromwell was convicted of the vehicular homicide and aggravated assault charges after a three-day trial in Anderson County Criminal Court in Clinton in February. His initial sentencing hearing was postponed because Cromwell did not want private attorney James Scott representing him anymore. Anderson County Public Defender Tom Marshall has been appointed instead. Scott had previously filed a motion to withdraw from the case and then renewed it during an April 11 hearing, citing irreconcilable differences with Cromwell, according to court records.
In April, Deputy District Attorney General Anthony J. Craighead of the Seventh Judicial District in Anderson County asked for the effective 11-year sentence to be served in a state prison. Craighead asked for that sentence in a notice of enhancement factors that was filed in Anderson County Criminal Court.
As a standard offender, Cromwell’s sentence range for the conviction of vehicular homicide by recklessness, a Class C felony, is three to six years, Craighead said.
Each of Cromwell’s convictions on the eight counts of aggravated assault, which are Class D felonies, carry a range of two to four years, Craighead said.
As reported by Oak Ridge Today in April, Craighead cited five enhancement factors:
- Cromwell has a previous history of criminal convictions or criminal behavior, in addition to those necessary to establish the appropriate range, Craighead said. Cromwell did not have a driver’s license while operating his pickup truck before the July 4, 2015, parking lot crash, and his license was reported to be suspended. Also, Cromwell is accused of filing false liens against several people, specifically people involved in investigating and prosecuting the fatal July 4 crash, Craighead said. And he filed those allegedly fraudulent liens while out on bond. Cromwell has been indicted by the Davidson County Grand Jury on the fraudulent lien charges. That case is still pending. (Oak Ridge Today has reported that Cromwell has filed $137 million worth of liens against law enforcement officials and agencies, the Internal Revenue Service, and a Social Security service center.)
- The crime involved more than one victim. Besides the victims of the vehicular homicide and aggravated assault convictions, “the offense placed several other people in danger,” Craighead said. The parking lot was very crowded, and both adults and children were present.
- In four of the counts, the victims were children, in some cases very young children, whose age caused them to be particularly vulnerable, Craighead said. The children were not able to escape the crash, and their injuries had a more serious impact because of their age, the deputy DA said.
- The personal injuries inflicted upon the victims, or the amount of damage to their property, was particularly great, Craighead said. The state acknowledged that the injuries and death of the victims were included in the crime. But, the proof at trial showed substantial damage to the two vehicles of the victims, Craighead said.
- Cromwell had no hesitation about committing a crime when the risk to human life was high, Craighead said. “In all the aggravated assault counts, the defendant (Cromwell) drove at a high rate of speed through a very crowded parking lot,” Craighead said. “The risk to human life was very high.”
The state asked for a five-year sentence on the vehicular homicide conviction and three years on each of the eight counts of aggravated assault. The prosecution asked for some of the sentences to be served concurrently and others to be served consecutively. That would mean some would be served at the same time, while others would be served one after another.
The state asked for some consecutive sentences under a three-part test that says the circumstances of the crimes were aggravated, confinement for an extended period of time is necessary to protect society, and the aggregate length of the sentence reasonably relates to the convicted offense.
Here are factors cited by Craighead:
- Cromwell backed his truck through a very crowded parking lot at a high rate of speed.
- There is evidence that he considers himself a “sovereign citizen,” meaning he might not recognize some governmental authorities. Cromwell has asserted that, as a sovereign citizen, he is not required to have a state driver’s license because he has not been engaged in commerce, according to an order filed after an April 11 hearing held in the judge’s chambers and allowing Scott to withdraw from his representation of Cromwell and appointing Marshall to replace him.
- He killed one person and injured eight others, including four children younger than 13.
Scott, the defense attorney who no longer represents Cromwell, filed a sentencing memorandum April 7. In that memorandum, he cited a plan of supervision included in a pre-sentencing report that would allow for community supervision for Cromwell. Scott submitted the following mitigating factors:
- Cromwell unlikely possessed the criminal intent to violate the law and was not motivated by criminal conduct. “There was no evidence that the defendant (Cromwell) acted with intent or knowledge,” Scott said.
- Cromwell has factors that merit community supervision: There was no evidence that he acted with malice, or otherwise, Scott said.
- Cromwell was immediately remorseful after the unintended act as shown in a letter attached to the sentencing memorandum, Scott said. It shows “literal compassion and thorough prayers for all the alleged victims in this matter, which also exemplifies a lack of knowledge and intent that are essential elements of the crimes for which he was convicted,” Scott said.
The plan of supervision included in the pre-sentencing report said a risk/needs assessment tool was used in March to determine Cromwell’s supervision plan level.
“The subject scored to be supervised at the minimum level,” said the Tennessee Department of Correction report, prepared by investigating officer Wayne R. Langley.
If Cromwell were granted community supervision, the following plan would be initially implemented, that report said:
- Intake first 30 days, two reports to office, and one home visit.
- Minimum supervision after the first 30 days.
- Referred to victim impact group.
- Pay court costs.
- Pay probation fees.
- Any other conditions ordered by the court.
In an amendment to the sentencing memorandum filed Tuesday, June 13, Marshall, the public defender who now represents Cromwell, said the case involves a traffic accident that happened quickly. He rebutted arguments made by Craighead, and Marshall said there are mitigating factors and no legitimate enhancement factors.
“Only concurrent sentences (to be served at the same time) will serve the interests of justice,” Marshall said. “Since there are mitigating factors and no legitimate enhancement factors, Mr. Cromwell qualifies as an especially mitigated offender. A three-year suspended sentence, all concurrent, is the most appropriate sentence. The American system of justice is not supposed to punish citizens for their political beliefs as the state admits it is trying to do in its Notice of Enhancement Factors.”
Here are the mitigating factors cited by Marshall:
- Substantial grounds exist that tend to excuse or justify the defendant’s criminal conduct, though they fail to establish a defense, Marshall said.
- The defendant, although guilty of the crime, committed the offense under such unusual circumstances that it is unlikely that a sustained intent to violate the law motivated the criminal conduct, the public defender said.
- The defendant has no significant criminal record whatsoever. Prior to this accident, Cromwell had one speeding ticket, Marshall said.
- Cromwell has expressed great remorse for the loss to the Robinson family throughout the criminal proceedings, Marshall said.
The public defender said the enhancement factors alleged by the state are not applicable, and there are none that are not essential elements of the offense charged in the indictments against Cromwell. (The indictments led to his convictions.)
Here is a summary of some of Marshall’s rebuttals of Craighead’s legal arguments:
- The Notice of Enhancement Factors filed by the state does not identify any prior convictions. An arrest or a charge—presumably meaning the fraudulent liens case—is not enough alone to allow this enhancing factor, Marshall said.
- The fact that the offense involved more than one victim does not apply because the Tennessee Supreme Court has held that there cannot be multiple victims for any one offense when an indictment specifies a certain victim. Also, citing other people involved in the crash when no charges were filed on their behalf is “simply inconsistent” with statutory language, Marshall said.
- There was no indication at trial that the injured children were “particularly vulnerable,” and no medical records or expert testimony were presented at trial to show that the children suffered any injuries, and especially none that were unique to their childhood, Marshall said. Age alone does not equal particular vulnerability, he said.
- The trial did not prove the claim of “particularly great” damage to the property of two of the victims, Marshall said.
Marshall also objected to the state’s requests for consecutive sentences on the basis of Cromwell being a dangerous offender. The state has the burden of proving that the dangerous offender classification applies, Marshall said.
“Society does not need protection from an individual who went 66 years from birth to this accident with no law violations other than a speeding ticket,” he said. “Of course, had he been able to afford a several million dollar insurance policy on his truck, no trial would ever had been had, and vengeance would evaporate as the motive to prosecute.”
It’s not clear that Summers, the senior judge who has heard the case, will agree that Cromwell has shown remorse. In fact, he said at the end of the three-day trial in February, when Cromwell was being arrested in the fraudulent liens case, that Cromwell hadn’t shown any remorse.
“You are potentially dangerous,” Summers told Cromwell when he revoked his bond.
Some of the people that Cromwell injured during the parking lot crash were young, and some were extremely vulnerable, Summers said.
Summers is hearing the case because Anderson County Criminal Court Judge Don Elledge had to recuse himself due to liens filed against the judge by Cromwell.
See the Notice of Enhancement Factors filed by Deputy District Attorney General Anthony J. Craighead on April 6 here: Lee Cromwell Notice of Enhancement Factors April 6 2017.
See the Sentencing Memorandum filed by defense attorney James Scott on April 7 here: Lee Cromwell Sentencing Memorandum April 7 2017.
See the First Amendment to the Sentencing Memorandum filed by Public Defender Tom Marshall on June 13 here: Lee Cromwell First Amendment to Sentencing Memorandum June 13 2017.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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