In May of 2011, my wife and I were the successful bidders on a home that was sold for non-payment of property taxes. Approximately one year later, we received our Clerk and Magistrate deed at which time we obtained possession of the home. The current renters remained in the home until mid-2013. We began remodeling the property after they moved. Our first step was to hire someone to clean the entire property inside and out. We decided that the little blue house that once sat behind Brocks admist such unsightliness, would become “A rose among the thorns”. We were excited to bring hope to the block.
On Feb. 22, 2014 our hopes were quickly bashed, but not diminished. During our renovation process, local thieves decided to help themselves to the copper wiring throughout the home. Of course, to get to some fo the wiring required yanking and pulling the wires from the ceilings and walls. Those actions ruined a large portion fo the sheet rock. So again, clean-up began. This was now the second time that we had to pay someone to clean out the house.
The cleaning was finished. The arson began.
On March 6, 2014, the rear door to the house was set ablaze like someone was trying to cover up evidence of the initial break in. The fire department came and extinguished the fire. In the process, they also wet down the entire inside of the house to prevent rekindle. So, not only was the rear door destroyed, the remaining good sheet rock, was now on the floor soaking wet with mounds of insulation on top.
Our fire bug proved to be very persistent. Fire number two, which happened on April 15, 2014, damaged only the front door this time, with the fire department’s report stating, “What looked like motor oil (excellent) was on the front porch.”
We were told that the area where the property is located had become a known area for drug use and exchanges because it was so dark. After we contacted the City Administrator about what we had learned, he contacted NUB and they placed a street light in the alley. Of course, that didn’t deter the thieves. The one last remanence of surviving copper was the large wires inside the breaker box leading into the house and the thieves helped themselves to it on May 24, 2014.
At this point, we were simply at a stand still. The property was sitting empty. What was once an investment had become a nightmare. But the worst was yet to come.
Living in the city, as we do, we can clearly hear emergency vehicles at all hours. On July 10, 2014, around 2:30 a.m. we awoke to the sounds of police cars, fire trucks and ringing phones. We made our way to a window in our home, where we could see the blaze of the fire destroying our once hopeful “rose among the thorns” to rubble and ashes. What a sickening feeling we both had, with. No understanding of why it was necessary for someone to do such a terrible thing.
The fourth cleanup was the last time we had to pay someone to remove the destruction from the house. Only a partial block foundation remains today.
There are many arsonists and thieves among us. This is not the first arson fire that we have experienced, although we hope it is the last. We had not obtained insurance on this property. We suffered a total loss of investment and income.
The previous fires on other properties that we had experienced, although much information was given to the proper authorities, goes unsolved with no conviction being made or sought. But this time, we decided to be persistent ourselves.
We became part of the investigation process. We immediately offered a reward in the amount of $1,500, in which we paid out. We contacted the local fire inspector and received information for the Tennessee Arson Hotline and the reward that they offered. That reward was not paid out. There were calls made to that hotline, but none of them led to a conviction.
We worked diligently with the Tennessee Fire Marshal, Newport fire inspector, TBI and the district attorney’s office.
The perpetrator is a repeat criminal. He had been in and out of jail countless times in numerous cities and states. We struggled back and forth in Cocke County Sessions Court where the perpetrator was very close to being released again, from the evil that he committed. Only through and because of our involvement was the information presented to the grand jury.
Finally, in Feb. 2017, approximately two and half years after our property was torched to the ground, we received a true bill by the grand jury to bring the perpetrator to court.
We met with the assistant district attorneys. We showed up at every court proceeding. We had all facts in hand at all times to provide to any authority that needed the information.
A plea agreement was made. The agreement was a seven-year sentence. The perpetrator was to spend one year in county jail and then serve the remaining six on probation with restitution payments. He was held in jail for one year and then released. We had signed up for theVine Link program, which informs victims of the criminal’s status. We were informed of his release from jail. We made contact with his probation officer and stayed in touch with her. He immediately began violating his probation and made no attempt to pay restitution. We again became part of the process to charge him with violation of probation.
A warrant was finally served in Nov. 2018. We were present at the hearing in which the perpetrator was ordered to serve his remaining sentence behind bars. As is happening everywhere, the perpetrator blamed his arson and thieving destructive actions on his drug problems. An attempt was made by the defense attorney to give the perpetrator, again, another chance as he also tried to silence us as victims. We were allowed to speak and our voices were heard. As a victim, you have a right to know what is going on and you have a right to be heard if the judge feels that it is appropriate. The judge’s orders, removed a dangerous criminal from the streets, at least temporarily.
We have watched a revolving door through sessions court for a few years now. We are proud to see circuit court holding people responsible for their actions. As the victims, we have lost not only our property in this case, but many many days of our lives, seeking justice. Although we will probably never receive a penny in restitution, of course he will be on our radar when he is released, we have some consolation in knowing that he will endure prison for a while, where he cannot harm anyone or anyone’s property. Hopefully he will return to society, pay his debt to us and lead a better life.
This has been a long journey in which our gratitude goes to those who were involved in this conviction. Thank you to our local authorities, the TN Fire Marshals, the TBI, the district attorney’s office and Judge Moore for your efforts and actions to pursue justice.
Our greatest appreciation goes to those citizens that spoke up. You know who you are. You were the keys to the puzzle. Thank you so much.
We encourage victims in our community to get involved and help stop crime in Newport and Cocke County. We encourage our judges to order serious punishment for serious crime. Repeat offender should not be a phrase regarded as lightly as it is in Cocke County. Punishment should equal the crime. Only then will the offenders rethink their repetitious behavior.
The lot still sits vacant. We have plans for it in the future. Hopefully she will be a “rose” someday.
Paul and Kim Gregg