Daughter-in-law accused of murder gets public defender; husband files for divorce
BLEDSOE COUNTY, TN. (WRCB)-- Shackled and sobbing, Brenda Brown finds a familiar face on the bench when she shuffles into Bledsoe County General Sessions Court Friday.
That's why Judge Howard Upchurch won't preside over her murder case.
"He's the one that handled the wills for the victims," Assistant District Attorney General Jim Pope says. "And that's why he's a potential witness and recused from the case."
Judge Upchurch has confirmed to Eyewitness News that Brenda's mother-in-law, Elizabeth Brown, 82, and Elizabeth's sister Billie Sue Blalock, 79, changed their wills in the weeks before their murders August 16th.
"By no means do I find that to be a motive," Sheriff Jimmy Morris says.
Nevertheless, Judge Upchurch has other conflicts. He was Brenda Brown's lawyer when she was convicted of breaking into a neighbor's home two years ago.
Under Tennessee law: Aggravated Burglary can carry a 3 to 15 year prison sentence. Brenda got one day a week in jail, for ten weeks. Brenda Brown received one day in jail for ten weeks, and four years' probation.
"Do you have a lawyer," Judge Upchurch asks her at her hearing this morning. "No, I haven't talked to (her husband) Bill. I don't know if I do or not."
Sheriff Morris tells Eyewitness News that investigators have no evidence to link Bill Brown, Elizabeth's son, to the murders. But Bill has filed for divorce from Brenda, and Upchurch is acting as his attorney.
"Did you say file for divorce," Brenda Brown asks Upchurch, sobbing.
"Yes, Ma'am," Upchurch responds.
"Let him (Bill) have everything, the kids have everything," she says. "I want nothing."
Neither the couple's children, nor any other family member, showed up for her court appearance.
The victims' cousin, Ed Frazier, told Eyewitness News that he couldn't bring himself to attend.
"Now that she's been arrested, God help her soul," Frazier says. "Just get it right, that's all I want to see."
The pending divorce means that Brown is on her own for her legal bills. Upchurch has appointed Jeff Harman as her public defender.
"Today was just very preliminary," Harmon tells Eyewitness News via phone. "I'll be reviewing the evidence, the search warrants. Then Mr. Pope, and (Rhea County) Judge James McKenzie will work to determine an appropriate date for a preliminary hearing."
Brown is due back in court September 28th for a revocation hearing. Her murder arrest is considered a violation of her probation for burglary, Pope says.
Sheriff Morris would prefer she be lodged outside Bledsoe County for the duration.
"Our jail is equipped for medical needs, but she's told us her needs go beyond that," Morris says.
He would not detail specifics.