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Posted: Thursday, April 18th 2002 at 1:34pm

Retrial set for November in Signal Mountain ATV murders

By
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE - A judge scheduled a retrial in an 1988 triple-slaying and said he is unlikely to grant a change of venue requested by the defendant.

Frank Casteel, 54, was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder in 1998, and sentenced to three life prison terms. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the convictions last year, because audio tapes of conversations between Casteel, his wife and his mistress were improperly used during the trial.

Special Judge James L. Weatherford of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., set the Nov. 11 trial date at a Wednesday hearing, and said he would decide within a few weeks on the request that it be moved out of Hamilton County.

``I'd be inclined certainly to go to another county to get a jury, but I think I'd be inclined to bring that jury here,'' he said.

The jury for the first trial was selected in Loudon County and brought to Hamilton County to hear testimony.

Casteel is charged in the deaths of Richard Mason, 49, of Signal Mountain; Kenneth Griffith, 22, of Red Bank; and Earl Smock, 23, of Decatur, Tenn. The three men were fatally shot in July 1988 as they rode all-terrain vehicles onto Casteel's 130 acres on Signal Mountain to go swimming.

The slain men's bloody ATVs were found over the side of a cliff the next day. A few days later and miles away, their bodies were found in a mountainside dump.

Blood from the victims was found beneath brush at the entrance of Casteel's property. But bullets taken from the bodies never were matched to a gun Casteel owned, and there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime.

Casteel lived in Rock Springs, Ga., at the time he was charged.

Casteel's attorneys, John Cavett and Hallie McFadden, said they want the trial moved to a community with population demographics similar to Hamilton County.

McFadden said the ``incredible pretrial publicity'' has not subsided.

Casteel waived his right to attend Wednesday's hearing.

Assistant District Attorney Rodney Strong said moving the retrial would be inconvenient and expensive. He said there were more than 60 witnesses, many of them Hamilton County residents.

``The media are going to follow this case wherever we go,'' Strong said.

Strong is prosecuting the case with District Attorney Bill Cox and Lee Davis, a former assistant district attorney who has been retained by the victims' families as a special prosecutor.
Associated Categories: State News

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