Court affirms denial of inmate's petition

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court's ruling that an inmate at the Northeast Correctional Complex failed to establish a legal claim for habeas corpus relief in a petition filed in Johnson County Circuit Court almost two years ago.
   The Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals delivered its opinion on Willie Tom Ensley v. Howard Carlton, Warden and State on Oct. 21 in Knoxville. Ensley's filing named Carlton -- warden of Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City -- in the petition seeking relief of habeas corpus.
   Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer delivered the opinion of the court, in which judges Gary R. Wade and James Curwood Witt, Jr. joined.
   The Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court that the Petitioner failed to establish a claim for habeas corpus relief.
   The trial court denied Ensley's request for habeas corpus relief, finding that the sufficiency of an indictment could not be properly challenged in a habeas corpus proceeding and finding that the petitioner failed to establish that the indictment was insufficient.
   A Davidson County jury convicted Ensley in 1986 of the first degree murder and aggravated rape of Brenda Kay Cotten. The trial court sentenced him to an effective sentence of life plus 27 1/2 years in state prison.
   The Criminal Court of Appeals affirmed the Ensley's convictions and sentences on direct appeal, and the Tennessee Supreme Court later denied permission to appeal.
   Ensley's attorney then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with Johnson County Circuit Court in 2000.
   A writ of habeas corpus requires that a person be brought before a judge. It is usually used to direct an official to produce a prisoner so the court may determine if liberty has been denied without due process of law.
   The petition alleged Ensley was entitled to habeas corpus relief because the murder indictment contained no reference to the applicable statute; the indictment for aggravated rape omitted the required allegation for aggravated rape, and a third count listed in the indictment was not signed by the district attorney general, according to the complaint.
   The court held that a challenge to the sufficiency of an indictment was not cognizable in a habeas corpus proceeding. The court cited a 1971 case of stating that "(d)efenses and objections based on defects in the indictment" must be raised prior to trial.
   The Court of Appeals ruled the murder indictment and aggravated rape indictment satisfied statutory requirements to inform Ensley of the charges he was facing.
   The Court's opinion determined that there was no requirement that the signature of the district attorney general follow each count of an indictment.
   "It is sufficient if the signature follows the second count of a two-count indictment", according to the opinion.