Appeals court upholds Crigler rulings

Thursday, February 9, 2012

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

Two Marshall County men recently had their appeals denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals at Nashville, upholding the judgments of Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler.

In one case, the man appealing to the court in Nashville had been convicted here on drug charges. The other man had been convicted of sex offences. The first claimed evidence against him was insufficient. The second said his punishment was too harsh.

Ellis Randall "Toby" Darnell, 36, formerly of Springplace Road, had a jury trial in December 2009. The jurors deliberated for just over two hours before returning a guilty verdict on all counts: manufacturing more than half a gram of methamphetamine, possessing more than half a gram of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony.

Crigler sentenced Darnell to two concurrent nine-year terms on the meth convictions, and a consecutive four-year term for the firearm conviction, for a total effective sentence of 13 years. He is due for a parole hearing in August 2012.

Darnell's attorney, Melissa Thomas of Fayetteville, appealed on the grounds that the evidence was insufficient to support the firearms conviction. Judge John Everett Williams, writing for the appeals court, denied this challenge.

"In this case, a rational jury was free to infer from the amount of methamphetamine found on the defendant, the fact that he was also found carrying a fully loaded handgun ... and testimony concerning his prior history of participating in methamphetamine "cooks" and delivering the finished product to others - that on the night in question, this defendant armed himself for the purposes of assisting in the distribution of a significant quantity of methamphetamine, a dangerous felony," wrote Williams.

"The judgments of the trial court are affirmed," he concluded.

Darnell, a graduate of Cornersville High School, revealed considerable bitterness when he filled in a questionnaire for the Board of Probation and Parole just after his trial.

"We got pulled over for spotlighting deer," he wrote. "A snitch (Jason Morgan) told some lies, some truth, but they charged me with manufacturing, and I didn't have anything on me or in jeep 2 (to) manufacture. The justice system or Eddie Barnard (the Assistant District Attorney) had there way with me. The Marshall County Justice System is Crooked as hell. I got railroaded by the justice system."

The other appeal came from Joshua D. McBurnett, 33, formerly of Ruby Road, who pled guilty to eight counts of rape and other sex offences, and received an effective 15-year sentence. He is eligible for a parole hearing in October 2014.

McBurnett had been a pressman at Lewisburg Printing for five years, until he was arrested in 2010. According to documents in his case file, he confessed to a four-year period of abuse, beginning in 2006 and ending in September 2010, when his victim was 17 years old.

"This has turned my and my family's world upside down," the victim's mother wrote for Charles Brannan's pre-sentence report on McBurnett. "It's sick!"

McBurnett was represented by the Public Defender's Office.

On appeal, McBurnett's attorneys contended that the 15-year sentence was excessive.

Writing for the three judges of the Criminal Appeals Court, Judge Joseph M. Tipton stated that they had examined the record and found that Crigler had correctly "followed the appropriate procedures in sentencing." McBurnett was on probation at the time of the offenses, which allows the court to order consecutive sentences. Because the sexual relationship between the defendant and the victim occurred over a four-year period, the appeal court concluded McBurnett "had an extensive history of criminal conduct," which also supports the imposition of consecutive sentences.