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Murder in cold-filed case decades ago linked to ousted Tennessee governor

CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee (AP) – The administration of a former Tennessee governor helped fund the contract murder of a key federal witness decades ago as he was embroiled in the country’s biggest political scandal. State, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

The new details first revealed on Wednesday have elements that sound like a movie: A trusted ally of union boss Jimmy Hoffa shot dead after testifying about a corrupt governor selling prison pardons and a gunman who donned a wig and blackface to throw the authorities out of jail. sniff.

Hamilton County investigators, which includes Chattanooga, have been tackling the cold case of 42-year-old Samuel Pettyjohn since they renewed their investigation in 2015. No new charges will be filed as all the key players involved are now dead. but authorities say closing the case closes one aspect of a complicated piece of Tennessee history.

Pettyjohn, a Chattanooga businessman and close friend of Hoffa, was fatally shot in 1979 in downtown Chattanooga after testifying before a federal grand jury during the early stages of the notorious “cash for mercy” scandal at Tennessee.

“Basically Mr. Pettyjohn cooperated with the authorities and knew too much about what was going on locally, as well as at the state level, and individuals didn’t like that and so individuals hired someone to the murder, “Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston said. mentionned. “Here we are 42 years later.

The scandal ultimately led to the ousting of Democratic Governor Ray Blanton, who was never charged in the investigation – but three of his aides were. However, questions remain as to the extent to which the governor’s administration actively worked to thwart the investigation. Officials say at least five witnesses in the case were murdered or committed suicide.

Photo / AP File

In this file photo from Jan. 11, 1979, Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton appears before a joint session to give his final state-of-the-state message to Nashville before stepping down on January 20.

Pinkston told reporters that Pettyjohn would meet with inmates to let them know that the money would help secure early release from prison starting in 1976. Pettyjohn was joined by William Thompson, who had been involved in Blanton’s election campaign and would be said to be later convicted in the cash-for-leniency scandal.

According to Pinkston, Pettyjohn and Thompson would file the payments at the governor’s office on Capitol Hill.

As federal investigators began to examine whether the governor’s office was exchanging money for parole, Pettyjohn was subpoenaed to testify about the ongoing program. Pettyjohn eventually agreed to cooperate with FBI agents, even going so far as to provide a list of people who made payments to the governor’s office for the early release of some prisoners.

Soon after, Pettyjohn was killed in what authorities describe as an “execution style coup.” Witnesses told authorities they saw a black man in a trench coat walk out of Pettyjohn’s store. Meanwhile, Pettyjohn was found with his pistol nearby, which had not been fired, and more than $ 100,000 on it.

According to Pinkston, Ed Alley – a notorious bank robber who died in 2005 in federal prison – was hired by several sources to kill Pettyjohn. Pinkston said those sources included an undisclosed third party who paid part of the contract money on behalf of the Blanton administration. The estimated total cost of the murder was between $ 25,000 and $ 50,000.

“I am very sure of it. I’m positive proof of that, ”Pinkston said when asked how certain he was that the Blanton administration helped pay for Pettyjohn’s murder.

Authorities say Alley, who was white, wore a wig, glasses and covered his skin in heavy brown makeup to deceive witnesses.

“Co-operative people have indicated that Alley admitted that Pettyjohn was assassinated for a variety of reasons, including that he was a source of cooperation for the FBI in the investigations into Governor Ray Blanton,” according to the findings of a major Hamilton County jury.

The grand jury concluded that if Alley were alive today, he would be charged with the premeditated first degree murder of Pettyjohn.

Mike Mathis, supervisor of the Hamilton County Cold Affairs Unit, admitted that it was highly unusual for an attorney’s office to prosecute a grand jury when most of the parties involved were dead, but said the county had chosen to do it for the first time because “gives you legal closure.

Saadiq Pettyjohn, one of Samuel Pettyjohn’s sons, said his mother often described his father as someone with a “heart of gold” and “a very generous and generous person,” while acknowledging that his father was associated with criminal activity. Authorities say Pettyjohn was part of an organized effort to blow up a building in order to collect insurance benefits, but he was never tried because of his untimely death.

“It is a curse and a blessing to grow up in a family linked to crime,” he added. “When that person dies, you can go that way or you can go another way; we all choose to try to do better in our lives.

Blanton, who died in 1996, sparked outrage after pardoning and commuting prison terms for more than 50 state inmates in the final days of his governorship. Blanton’s fellow Democrats worked with Republicans in the legislature to advance the nomination of his Republican successor, Lamar Alexander, by three days.

Blanton was never charged in the scandal, but in 1981 he was convicted of unrelated extortion and conspiracy charges for selling a liquor license for $ 23,000 to a friend while he was in office.


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