CLINTON—An attempted first-degree murder charge has been sent to the grand jury in a case involving an Oak Ridge man accused of shooting and injuring two men and shooting near a woman but not hitting her.
Two charges of reckless endangerment were also bound over, or sent to the grand jury. Those charges had initially been filed as attempted first-degree murder.
A preliminary hearing for Jacob Lynn Rutherford, 23, was held Wednesday, March 7, in Anderson County General Sessions Court in Clinton.
Rutherford had originally been charged with a total of three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of reckless endangerment. One count of reckless endangerment was dismissed during the preliminary hearing last week, meaning Rutherford faces the one attempted first-degree murder charge and the two counts of reckless endangerment that were originally attempted murder.
There is no timeline for when the Anderson County Grand Jury might consider the charges. An indictment by the grand jury would move Rutherford’s case from Anderson County General Sessions Court to Anderson County Criminal Court.
The charges stem from a shooting in a bedroom in a house at the intersection of Lonesome Dove Road and Clinton Highway in Claxton on Sunday evening, January 13.
During the preliminary hearing last week, Nathan Lynn Phillips, 36, one of the victims, testified that there was an altercation between him and Rutherford in the bedroom of William “Ernie” Ernest Foster, 34, the second victim and a resident of the home, sometime around 5 p.m. that day. There were five to six people in the room at the time, according to testimony. The reason for the altercation wasn’t clear. It also wasn’t clear if Rutherford’s girlfriend, Maggie Atteberry, 25, who has also been charged in the incident, was involved in the altercation.
Before the altercation, Phillips said, Rutherford had showed his 9mm handgun and pulled out a clip and put it back in.
After the altercation started, Phillips said he punched Rutherford three times, including in the left eye, and Rutherford hit a wall and fell into other objects, including a television and entertainment center.
Two to three feet away, Rutherford lifted his shirt and pulled the gun, Phillips said. Then he shot: “Pop! Pop! Pop!” Phillips said.
Phillips was shot three times, and he passed out. In the courtroom last Wednesday, he lifted his shirt to show the wounds to the left side of his chest area and left arm.
It wasn’t until a few minutes after the shooting that he realized Foster had been shot, Phillips said.
Phillips was driven toward the hospital, presumably Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, but the vehicle stopped at the BreadBox gas station and convenience store on Edgemoor Road and the driver went in to call 911. Phillips was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville for treatment of his injuries.
William Foster, the second victim, said he had been dozing in a chair when Phillips and Rutherford got into the altercation. Voices were raised, and the two men were wrestling and fighting, Foster said. Then he heard “pops,” Foster said. He said Rutherford had had a gun in his waistband, and he had showed it to people in the house.
But Foster testified that he didn’t see the gun at the time of the shooting.
“It happened really fast,” he said.
Foster was shot in the right elbow, and like Phillips, he was taken to UT Medical Center.
Brenda Foster, William “Ernie” Foster’s mother and the third victim, said she was at home at the time of the shooting. When she heard noises from Ernie’s bedroom, Brenda Foster said, she stepped in as Rutherford ran out.
“I heard pops,” Brenda Foster said.
Rutherford had his hand out, Foster said, holding out her arm in court to demonstrate.
Rutherford was about three to four feet away as he ran out, she said.
“That’s all I saw, and then I heard the pops,” she said. “It happened so fast.”
She did not see the gun as she ducked her head, but it was pointed near her, according to her testimony. Foster said she felt wind on the right side of her face.
In court affidavits and during the preliminary hearing, Anderson County Sheriff’s Department Corporal James Crowley said Rutherford told him that he had been in an altercation with Phillips. After Phillips punched him in the face, Rutherford said he pulled the handgun from his waistband, pointed it at Phillips, and fired a shot, said Crowley, who investigated the shooting for about eight hours that night.
It’s not clear whether Rutherford has made any statement regarding allegedly shooting at or near the Fosters.
After the alleged shooting, Rutherford and Atteberrry, his girlfriend, fled the home, Crowley said in the affidavits. Other people who were inside the home when the shooting occurred were “in fear of bodily harm or death,” the affidavits said.
Anderson County General Sessions Court Judge Don Layton, who had to determine whether there was probable cause before sending the charges to the grand jury last week, said testimony supported the fact that the gun was fired at Phillips. Rutherford wasn’t the primary aggressor and Phillips was hit during a fracas, which didn’t support premeditation, Layton said. But in terms of self-defense, the use of the gun as a weapon wasn’t equivalent to using fists, the judge said.
The attempted first-degree murder charge applies to the shooting of Phillips, and the two reckless endangerment charges apply to the alleged acts of shooting at or near William Foster and Brenda Foster.
It wasn’t clear how many shots were fired, whether one, three, or five. Rutherford said he fired once, according to affidavits. But Crowley testified that he found three shell casings in the bedroom. And Phillips was hit three times and “Ernie” Foster was struck once, according to testimony, and Brenda Foster said she felt a shot.
It also wasn’t clear from the testimony the extent to which drugs or alcohol might have been involved. Phillips and William Foster testified that they had smoked marijuana. But Crowley, the investigator, said Rutherford told him that alcohol and drugs were involved, and the drug unit was called to the home where the shooting occurred, Crowley said. He testified of observing burned marijuana in an ashtray and seeing a discolored liquid and needles, and he recalled empty beer bottles.
Rutherford and Atteberry were quickly found after the shooting, early Sunday morning, January 14, at the home of Atteberry’s aunt just north of State Route 61 in Anderson County, between Norris and Interstate 75, and they were detained and taken to the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department, the affidavits said.
During an interview with Crowley, Atteberry said Rutherford had a handgun and he fired it inside the Claxton home, according to the affidavits.
Later, after she and Rutherford arrived at her aunt’s home, Rutherford gave Atteberry a bag with two firearms, told her to give it to her aunt, and have the aunt put the bag in her car, Atteberry told Crowley, according to the affidavits. Atteberry gave the bag to her aunt and asked her to put the bag in her car, the affidavits said. The aunt was not told what was in the bag.
In the affidavits, Crowley said the two firearms were located in the aunt’s vehicle and logged into evidence. Rutherford and Atteberry were arrested and taken to the Anderson County Detention Facility in Clinton.
Atteberry was charged with being an accessory after the fact. She waived that charge to the grand jury last week. Her bond has been set at $5,000, and she was released from the Anderson County Detention Facility early January 14.
Bond for Rutherford remains set at $250,000, and he remained jailed at the Anderson County Detention Facility on Wednesday afternoon.