Knoxville (WVLT) - Three young men had described it as a night of redneck fun, dropping rocks off an overpass.
But when one rock killed a woman heading home from her grandson's high school graduation. Two men were convicted of murder and the third copped a plea.
Now, as Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd finds out, one may have an unlikely ally in his fight to get out of a life sentence.
Under Tennessee law, you don't have to prove your suspect intended to kill, to convict him or her of murder, if the weapon used is a "destructive device".
But what makes a rock more than a rock?
"My mother-in-law's face was just totally destroyed," Chris Grande's words, on the witness stand and to 911:
Chris: "Oh my God, there's a rock, a rock, it looks just like a rock came through the window."
Leave no doubt as to the destruction Alford Morgan's rock wrought upon Barbara Weimer.
"It practically tore Barbara Weimer's head off," says Prosecutor Bill Crabtree.
On that, Tennessee's Attorney General's Office agrees, but it also argues there was no reasonable proof that the rock was a device, intended to kill.
Therefore the evidence isn't sufficient to support Morgan's murder conviction.
"That rock was not designed, or put together with parts to become a destructive device," says defense attorney Russell Greene.
"Put a handle on it and make a club out of it. Is it any different? It doesn't kill you any more or any less?" Prosecutor Bill Crabtree argues it's both physical and physics. That Morgan had to know a ten pound rock thrown or dropped off 22 feet off an Interstate Overpass could maim or kill.
"His conduct took a life, but it's not intended. It was reckless, it was careless, it was stupid," Greene argues.
If the Appeals Court agrees, his lawyer says, Morgan likely would still do six years apiece for aggravated assault on Melissa and Chris Grande, but the life sentence for Barbara Weimer's murder could drop to four years for reckless homicide.
Or, more to the point, "For the actual killing, he would receive less sentence than for the ones who were not hurt," as Crabtree puts it.
Which could help co-defendant Matthew Carter, convicted just last year of second-degree murder.
"It's probably gonna knock out the destructive device, so he's still left with a second degree, but he probably could have a new trial," Greene says.
Carter's lawyer hasn't filed his appeal yet. Morgan's appeal goes up five weeks from Friday.
Around 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, Barbara Weimer's daughter Malissa, and son-in-law Chris released this statement saying "it's common sense that when a ten pound rock is carried onto an overpass to be thrown at a car traveling below, the ten pound rock is being used as a destructive device. The trial judge and jury agreed. Our family trusts the appellate court will consider the entire record and make a just ruling."
Morgan's lawyer argues Tennessee's murder-by-destructive device is unconstitutional.
Prosecutors argue the state attorney general merely has said this particular rock wasn't proven not to be a destructive device, not that a rock can't be a destructive device.
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