TN Appeals Court upholds Murfreesboro man's conviction that resulted in DA's firing

Dec 01, 2020 at 09:30 am by Michelle Willard

A gavel

The conviction of a Murfreesboro man, whose prosecution resulted in the firing and censure of a Rutherford County assistant district attorney, was upheld by the Tennessee Court of Appeals on Monday.

At a second trial, a jury convicted Hernandez of nine counts of rape of a child, two counts of aggravated sexual battery, and one count of solicitation of a minor. He agreed to a negotiated sentence of 20 years in exchange for his waiving his right to appeal.

Hernandez asked for his conviction to be overturned, alleging "ineffective assistance of counsel." The appellate court disagreed, upholding Hernandez's conviction and sentencing.

In 2013, he was indicted by the Rutherford County Grand Jury and later arrested in Nashville.

During his first trial in 2014, Judge Keith Siskin declared a mistrial after then ADA Laurel Hemenway violated an order to avoid introducing evidence of Hernandez's past. After the order was issued, Hemenway directly asked Hernandez about prior arrests, prompting the mistrial.

She then, while still in the courtroom, accused Siskin of sexism. Siskin said in a complaint filed at the time with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility that she said confronted him and said his courtroom was a "hostile environment for a female."

In response to the complaint, Hemenway sent a letter to Jones accusing Attorney General Jennings Jones of ignoring her requests for help during the trial and a pending workers' compensation claim.

Hemenway was later fired after refusing to resign.

Hemenway had been with the DA's office since 1999, first as a domestic-violence prosecutor and then as a crimes-against-children prosecutor. As lead prosecutor in child abuse-and child sexual-abuse cases, she had a 95 percent conviction rate over her career, according to DNJ archives.

Siskin on the bench for more than 10 years, first as a magistrate in Juvenile Court before being appointed to Circuit Court in 2012. He died in 2017.


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