Loudon chief may face trial after all By HUGH G. WILLETT, News Sentinel

April 19, 2007

A state appeals court has reversed the dismissal of an indictment for extortion against well-known Loudon County official Tony Aikens, meaning the case could be returned to trial in Loudon County. Aikens is chief deputy of the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office and a Lenoir City councilman.

The case stems from a 2002 incident that involved two Loudon County sheriff’s deputies who pulled over a car on Interstate 75 driven by Chattanooga resident Eddie W. Witt.

Witt claims representatives of the sheriff’s office tried to force him to "donate" some $9,649.25 found in his vehicle to a sheriff’s office drug fund or face loss of his automobile and another $10,000 in fines. Aikens was not accused of pocketing Witt’s nearly $10,000. Records show it was immediately deposited into the county’s drug fund. Witt filed a civil lawsuit and got all of his money back. Later, his lawyer pushed for a grand jury investigation of the incident, which led to Aikens' indictment.

An initial indictment in 2004 against Aikens for extortion was dismissed due to a tainted jury process where the presence of a private attorney jeopardized the secrecy and impartiality of the jury. In August 2005, another indictment charged Aikens with extortion and evidence tampering. The case was again dismissed due to problems with the jury foreman.

Aikens’ attorney, T. Scott Jones, argued that because the same jury foreman was present for both grand jury proceedings, Aikens’ right to an impartial jury was compromised. Jones said the case against Aikens was part of a "political persecution" by former District Attorney Scott McCluen, who lost the election against current District Attorney Russell Johnson. Jones said he is confident Aikens will be vindicated because "the voters have spoken."

According to Johnson, following a 64-day period that is open for appeal, the case will be remanded back to criminal court in Loudon under Judge James B. Scott.

Special prosecutor Edward Bailey will decide whether to try the case. "I have not even seen the judgment, so I cannot say whether or not the case will go to trial," Bailey said. "It will be another month or six weeks until a decision is made." Bailey said he disagrees with claims by Aikens’ attorney that the original case was politically motivated. The case was initiated by Witt’s attorney and the grand jury brought its indictment based solely on Witt’s testimony, Bailey said. He denied that politics would have any effect on whether the case will be tried. "I am not involved in politics in Loudon County," he added.

Jones responded that he "has no stones to throw at Bailey" but insisted that the original case was politically motivated by McCluen.
"It’s one of those things where if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like duck, well you know what it is."