By JOSH NELSONSpecial to The Wilson Post
GALLATIN -- A woman accused of conspiring to have her mother murdered pled no contest in Sumner County Circuit Court Tuesday.
While the intended murder victim was a Wilson County resident at the time of the crime, the case has been handled in Sumner County because recorded conversations providing proof of the murder-for-hire plot took place in Sumner County, where the defendant, Lauren Morrow, resided at the time.
Under a no contest plea, the defendant neither admits nor denies the facts, but the plea has the same effect as a plea of guilty.
According to the terms of the agreement Morrow reached with prosecutors Tuesday, she will serve 30 days in jail, all on the weekends.
Morrow initially pled guilty in February and was to serve 365 days in jail and another four years on probation.
The charge she originally pled guilty to in February was attempted solicitation of first-degree murder.
Since she has a small child, she was given a week to arrange for the care of the child and was to then turn herself in to serve the year in jail.
After she left the courtroom, attorneys realized there is not a crime of attempted solicitation of first-degree murder, because a defendant either solicits or does not solicit, but cannot attempt to solicit.
As a result, Morrow’s lawyer and the prosecutor reached an agreement that when Morrow was to turn herself in to do her time, she would first come to court to plead guilty to a different charge – solicitation of second-degree murder.
The punishment was to be the same – 365 days in confinement.
However, when Morrow returned to court, she instead entered a plea of not guilty and asked for a trial.
Morrow’s attorney, Tim Hatton of Lebanon, later asked Criminal Court Judge Dee Gay to recuse himself because Gay had already accepted a guilty plea and may have “pre-judged what the sentence should be” because of comments he made in regards to the sentence of a co-defendant.
Gay took the matter under advisement and later recused himself, and the case was reassigned to Circuit Court Judge C.L. “Buck” Rogers.
Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney General Wayne Hyatt and Hatton reached the agreement, which also includes six years under the supervision of Community Corrections and state probation and a no contact order with co-defendants Andrew Bland of Sumner County and Joshua Stubblefield of Watertown.
Bland, Morrow’s boyfriend at the time, is serving 365 days in jail and another four years probation for his involvement in the scheme, while Stubblefield, the man who was supposed to be the hit man, received two years of probation.
Wyatt was asked Tuesday why he agreed to the deal when Bland received a year of confinement.
“There were some motions that…were not meritless,” he said of motions Hatton had filed to suppress statements. “If (the motions) had been granted, they would have been harmful to the state.”
“Also, she has no prior record, and she’s worked hard to get her life back in order,” he continued. “She and Bland are not together now. I realize it’s not a lot of jail time, but she was, in my opinion, the least culpable in what was done and what was planned.”
“There was not much question (Bland) was the main mover based on the tapes, the statements he had been given, and what have you,” Wyatt went on to say.
At Tuesday’s court hearing, Judge Rogers asked Hatton why Morrow should be allowed to serve the time on weekends.
“Well, she has a small child,” Hatton said. “And very shortly she’s going to start school again – that’s been kind of a start and stop thing since all this began, and she has just started a business with her mother.
“She also has been diagnosed as being bi-polar, and she’s getting treatment for that, and she’s progressing,” Hatton added.
“She’s got a lot of positive things going on in her life, and (weekends) will have less of an impact on these positive things that have taken place in the last year-and-a-half,” he concluded.
Wyatt said another factor in the disparity between Morrow’s sentence and Bland’s sentence is that while this was Morrow’s first offense, Bland had been charged before with theft of $10,000-$60,000 and fabricating evidence.
In that incident, Bland was accused of helping his mother steal from her employer in Gallatin and trying to conceal the theft by saying the business was robbed.
Bland was said to have taken some of the stolen money and going to Knoxville with his roommate, where they spent the money at nightclubs and on a hotel room.
According to prosecutors, in the murder-for-hire scheme, Bland and Morrow were to pay Stubblefield to shoot and kill Morrow’s mother in order to collect $2 million in insurance money.
Editor’s Note: Josh Nelson is a staff writer for the Gallatin Newspaper.