Trial begins for man charged in death of Rachel Clawson

By Abby Morris

Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   Judge Robert Cupp issued a court ruling Tuesday in the case charging Michael Burrow with reckless homicide in the June 2002 death of 20-year-old Rachel Clawson that may have an impact on how the jury decides the case.
   Cupp made a ruling not to allow testimony from Clawson's mother, Sherry Clawson, or from Clawson's boyfriend that states that Clawson and Burrow, 25, knew each other.
   According to Assistant District Attorney Ken Baldwin, Clawson told her mother during the summer of 2001 and her employment as a flagger for a road construction crew working on U.S. Highway 91 in the Stoney Creek community, that Burrow initiated contact with her to ask her out and that she had no desire to go out with him. At that time, Baldwin said, Clawson asked her mother what she should do about the situation.
   The next year, during the summer of 2002 when Clawson again worked as a flagger for the road construction crew on the same stretch of highway, Burrow reportedly began contacting Clawson again. Baldwin said Clawson discussed the matter with her boyfriend and told him of one incident when Burrow veered his vehicle toward her while she was working.
   Cupp ruled that testimony as to the past history between Clawson and Burrow was not admissible in court because it was considered to be hearsay - information told to witnesses by an individual not associated with the persons involved.
   Baldwin told the court that he wished to enter the testimony to show that the sort of reckless behavior that the state contends led to the death of Clawson happened on a separate occasion before the accident. Cupp told Baldwin and Burrow's attorney that he feared the jury would misinterpret the evidence to mean that Burrow had intended to kill Clawson, which is not the crime he is charged with. Baldwin stressed that the state's contention was that Burrow did not intend to kill Clawson, but that he chose to engage in reckless behavior that did in fact lead to her death.
   Clawson was killed on June 19, 2002, as she was finishing her work day. According to reports, Clawson was standing off of the roadway on the northbound shoulder of Highway 91 next to her 1996 red Ford Ranger pickup truck when she was struck by a white 1996 Dodge Ram pickup truck driven by Burrow when it veered off the roadway, pushing her into the side of her own vehicle.
   Testimony for the prosecution began in court today, and jurors heard from witnesses such as investigators from the Tennessee Highway Patrol who reconstructed the accident, witnesses who saw what occurred, emergency workers who responded to the scene, and the doctor who treated Clawson after she was transported to the Johnson City Medical Center by Wings Air Rescue.
   According to Dr. Julie Dunn, a general and trauma surgeon at the Johnson City Medical Center, Clawson suffered severe injuries to her lower extremities. "Films showed a horribly crushed pelvis," Dunn said, adding that both of Clawson's legs were "horribly broken."
   Clawson arrived at the emergency room and treatment began at approximately 5 p.m. that day. She was pronounced dead at the hospital about an hour-and-a-half later. According to Dunn, Clawson bled to death from the pelvic and lower extremity injuries she received.
   The testimony will continue today and the trial is also expected to conclude.