Atkins granted diversion

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The political campaign manager for a state Senate candidate last year has been granted a pretrial diversion on charges from an indictment that he allegedly used Sen. Bill Ketron's name in e-mails to solicit campaign contributions for Ketron's challenger.

Such a legal maneuver leads to expungement - erasure - of public records in the case against Chris Atkins who served Columbia Councilman Debbie Matthews' bid for Senate last November, according to defense attorney Jerry Colley of Columbia.

"I don't have any problem with that," Ketron said last week while reporting that District Attorney Mike Bottoms had advised him that charges against Atkins wouldn't be prosecuted subsequent to Colley's petition for Atkins.

"Chris is probably a good person who was just taking directions from his boss," the senator said. "I'd say it's probably the end of his political interest."

The Murfreesboro Republican represents Marshall, Maury, Lincoln and part of Rutherford counties.

Court records authorizing the pretrial agreement were signed March 4 by Colley, District Attorney Mike Bottoms and Judge Robert Jones.

Expungement of Atkins' court and arrest records will be automatic after his successful completion of two years of probation, Colley said. "That's the way it works. After two years the record is erased."

The two-year probationary period "started the day the judge signed the order," Colley said. Atkins "had no previous record. He's a graduate of West Point. He served in Iraq. When the legislature passed that law; it fits him perfectly."

Atkins was charged only after a Maury County Grand Jury indicted him in November on two charges: identity theft and using someone's likeness without permission.

Atkins used a free e-mail account to solicit funds for Matthews' campaign.

The e-mail sought contributions "from 887 people and was sent from ...," The Daily Herald of Columbia reported Tuesday. "While the e-mail sender was listed as Ketron, the body of the e-mail was signed 'Debbie Matthews for state Senate.'"

Atkins testified in a civil case brought by Ketron to win an injunction ending use of the e-mail, acknowledging the e-mail was a mistake he regrets and that the account was closed.

During the same hearing, Matthews testified that she didn't know about the e-mails until Ketron accused her of the campaign spoof during a political debate sponsored by the Herald at the main campus of Columbia State Community College.

"'I'm happy to ... put this behind us and move on with our lives,'" the Herald reported Tuesday when quoting Atkins.