|Teens charged at party take deal Eleven give
statements, agree to litter pickup in underage drinking case
By TOM BENNING, knoxnews.com
May 24, 2007
LOUDON - District Attorney General Russell Johnson offered a deal Wednesday to the 18- and 19-year-olds charged with underage consumption at the May 6 prom party at the Loudon County home of Jack and Katharine Butturini.
The 11 teens at a hearing in Loudon County General Sessions Court got pretrial diversion in exchange for their written statements and potential testimony regarding happenings at the party and, specifically, the role of the West Knox County businessman and his wife.
The Butturinis were charged earlier this month with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and furnishing alcohol to minors. The couple have said they didn't know the party was going on and pleaded innocent.
The teens' statements were not released after the hearing because they are part of an ongoing investigation, Johnson said.
John Boucher, attorney for Kaylah Badeaux, said that based on his client's memory of the party and the information gathered by Loudon County police, the situation was the result of the Butturinis offering up their home to the teenagers.
He said his client wrote in her statement that, while the Butturinis did not hand her alcohol, there was alcohol available throughout the house.
Boucher also said his client was unaware of who bought the alcohol.
As with all underage drinking cases, the teenagers will have to complete a two-hour underage-drinking class, Johnson said. However, the district attorney cut two months off the normal six-month diversionary period.
And if the young men and women stay out of trouble until Sept. 23, Johnson said their cases would be dismissed with no court costs and that the defendants would have the opportunity to expunge the charges from their records.
Instead of the $250 court costs, Johnson opted to require six to eight hours of community service litter pickup in Loudon County. He said he received numerous complaints about bottles and cans being strewn throughout the neighborhood, and in court, officers estimated that there were 50 beer cans floating in the cove behind the Butturinis' house.
"We thought we could teach a lesson with the community service," Johnson said.
Eleven of 12 cited 18- and 19-year-olds were present, and all in attendance accepted the deal. Johnson said the seven minors cited with underage consumption would be offered the same deal.
Boucher said the deal was fair in that everyone cited was treated the same. But after officers estimated the party size at 50-60 attendees, he questioned why the partygoers who ran away or did not admit to drinking were not facing punishment.
Added Chris Trew, attorney for Mason Burks, Kathryn Machiela and William Wilhoite, "These parents want you to know that these are the kids that owned up to their responsibility and stayed."
Johnson said those facts were considered in the decision to offer a deal and that the defendants' statements could potentially lead to additional prosecution of underage consumption.
"We are not trying to throw anyone under the bus," Johnson said. "We've all been young and been in high school."
In the hearing, Loudon County Sheriff's Office Deputy T.J. Scarbrough recounted the party scene for the parents in attendance. In his account, he mentioned the comments of his supervisor, Sgt. J.J. Wiggins, as they approached the Butturinis' door.
"He stated he heard Mrs. Butturini say, 'Pick up the beer cans, beer bottles, liquor bottles, and stuff them under the couch, whatever you can find,' " Scarbrough said.
Contacted after the hearing, Joe Hoffer, attorney for the Butturinis, said he had seen no such statement when he reviewed the case's affidavits. Furthermore, he said his clients did not say anything to that effect and that no alcohol was found inside the house.
"That's not the first misstatement in this case," he said. "There is a tremendous amount of hearsay being released to the press."
The Butturinis' next hearing will be June 27.