The parents of Brandon Richmond Bowling gasped when General Sessions Court Judge Ben Hall McFarlin set his bond at $1 million on charges he killed Heather Nicole Maples at her Brown Drive apartment early Aug. 7.
Patricia Bowling, a FedEx retiree, and her husband, a Georgia Pacific employee, are residents of upscale Collierville east of Memphis. When she testified in his bond hearing, she showed a great deal of class. It would be extremely difficult to sit on the witness stand and talk about your son when he faces first-degree murder charges, especially after court testimony showed Maples was beaten, strangled and possibly sexually assaulted before she was found lying lifeless, face down on her bed that morning.
Yet Mrs. Bowling held up while testifying about her son, whom they adopted before he was a year old. She said he maintained good grades throughout high school and into college and started working when he was in the 10th grade. They wanted to make sure he developed a good work ethic, and during college he held jobs with TransAmerica, Amazon and with Jimmy John’s before his arrest.
After taking classes all summer at MTSU, he was set to graduate in the spring with a business management degree, if everything went according to plan, she said. Brandon had no serious record, either, only a couple of minor charges a few years ago when police tried to break up some teen partying, she said. It was dismissed after he did community service.
The 22-year-old Bowling faces a serious situation now, one in which his future is on the line because of a murder charge and some pretty devastating evidence to overcome. His attorney, Paul Bruno, of Nashville told the judge he was entitled to have bond set. He’d been in Murfreesboro for four years as an MTSU student and lived his entire young life in Collierville.
But Assistant District Attorney Paul Newman argued Bowling could well face the death penalty. No decision had been made. In addition to first-degree murder, which is premeditated, Murfreesboro police are considering filing aggravated burglary, rape and felony murder charges against Bowling as well.
Even though Bruno argued those potential charges shouldn’t apply in a bond hearing, McFarlin pointed out the potential for a capital murder case had to be part of the equation, along with the likelihood of conviction.
Testimony from TBI experts showed Bowling’s right thumb print was found on a blood stain on Maples’ bed sheet. His DNA also matched samples taken from four places on her body.
Bowling and Maples, both of whom had been out partying all night but separately, had known each other for about three to four months, according to testimony. He told police he hadn’t been to her apartment for three to four weeks, according to a Murfreesboro detective, but admitted they might have had a sexual relationship one night.
Bruno asked the detective if he knew anything about Maples and a friend having a website promoting activities with men. The detective said he didn’t know what that might involve.
Regardless of what that means, however, a young woman is dead, brutally murdered. A young man is in jail, likely not to get out on bond, facing a long, long prison term if convicted.
Bruno appears to be an excellent attorney. But the prosecution will be relentless, and the scientific evidence is overwhelming.
This is just a horrible situation for everyone involved—as most murder cases are. Maples’ mother, Jennifer Hunter, remained stoic, saying she simply wants justice.
Bowling’s family was distraught and left the Judicial Building almost immediately after Judge McFarlin set bond at $1 million. They held out hope they’d be able to afford to take him home to Collierville and bring him back for court dates.
Shanterrica Madden was released on bond after being charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Lady Raiders basketball player Tina Stewart about five years ago. But she later persuaded the jury she killed Stewart when they got into a fight. Prosecutors never could prove premeditation.
In this situation, though, with the potential for a capital murder charge, it would be exceedingly difficult for a judge to let someone go home and live with his parents.
More Sheriff Shenanigans
Just when we thought the silly season was over, Sheriff Robert Arnold proved us wrong.
Arnold’s already cost Rutherford nearly $600,000, plus more than $100,000 in legal fees, for getting rid of two employees, Detective Jim Tramel and Joy Nelson, over the last two and a half years. He’s now the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by McKayla Black, a former jailer, who sued him and the county claiming he fired her last fall because she had the audacity to support another candidate in the sheriff’s election, violating her First and 14th Amendment rights regarding free speech and political activity.
Not only did he “personally” terminate her employment the day before Thanksgiving in 2014, according to her lawsuit, he didn’t give her any chance for due process. Then, he gave a patrol job she was seeking to his cousin, James Vanderveer, instead.
Vanderveer is being investigated by the TBI for his role in an apparent pepper-spraying of a confined inmate who was unruly after being arrested for disorderly conducted. That man filed a federal lawsuit last year against Vanderveer, another jailer and the sheriff, saying they violated his constitutional rights when he was locked down in a chair and sprayed for several seconds, then left sitting there. District Attorney Jennings Jones requested the investigation.
Anyone who saw the YouTube video would think it was something out of a Russian gulag.
It must be noted Vanderveer’s parents, Arnold’s aunt and uncle, are listed as co-owners of JailCigs, which was selling e-cigarettes to Rutherford County jail inmates until the media found out about it and published reports in early April. The other co-owner is Joe Russell, who is getting paid on the Family Medical Leave Act by Rutherford County after being on paid administrative leave for about three months.
Arnold listed on a Tennessee Ethics Commission form he and his wife, Megan, were investors in JailCigs and received income from it. Arnold told a TV reporter his wife worked part-time for the company answering phones, although that is questionable at best. Russell’s emails at the sheriff’s office show he was running the business out of there, soliciting out-of-state buyers and even Corrections Corporation of America.
Oops, I almost forgot to mention Vanderveer was charged with DUI and resigned from the sheriff’s office before being rehired as a jailer and then being given a job on patrol—the position McKayla Black wanted.
The FBI, TBI and state Comptroller’s Officer are investigating because using a political position for personal gain is a felony. Seriously, nobody could make up this stuff, and it’s put the sheriff’s office on edge, to say the least.
But here’s a prediction: Black is likely to get a sum topping even Tramel’s and Nelson’s. That means Arnold, who campaigned on a platform of saving taxpayers’ money, will have cost the county in excess of $1 million for personnel lawsuits alone—and for what? Mainly political retribution.
More Money, More Money
After all the beans were counted, Rutherford County spent roughly $480,000 for a Circuit Court Clerk’s Office computer system that never worked.
It also cost at least one employee her job after she got frustrated with the system and slung a chair across the office floor last year.
The system change was initiated by former Circuit Court Clerk Laura Bohling and went live when Melissa Harrell replaced her Sept. 1, 2014. A few weeks afterward, county officials pulled the plug on the system because it was—to be kind—stinking up the joint.
The Rutherford County Commission recently reached a settlement with the vendor, in which it will be paid $250,000 and receive forgiveness on invoices it never paid. In all, they paid $1.22 million, but they’ll keep the hardware and the reports compiled by the person hired to oversee the start-up. County officials say from now on they’re going to take a much closer look at these technology purchases and not pay the vendor until they know the system works.
That’s sound advice. But, good Lord, it took a lot of money to get there.