The sister of a man accused of slaying and dismembering their parents urged a judge Thursday to turn aside her brother’s bid for a trial delay.
Joel Guy Jr., 32, sought to convince Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword to delay his Sept. 28 trial, citing concerns about the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
But his sister, Michelle Dennison, balked.
A teacher who appeared in court Thursday via a video link from her classroom, Dennison noted she is being forced to return to work and her children are being forced to attend school — despite the pandemic.
“The world is continuing,” Dennison said. “Why shouldn’t the trial continue? Y’all are affecting the lives of other people.”
Dennison told Sword that her children have already suffered the loss of their grandparents – allegedly at their uncle’s hands – and a more recent loss of their father. They need the closure a trial would bring, she added.
“You can imagine the burden,” she said.
An expressionless Guy – without a mask – sat at a defense table inside the courtroom, his body turned away from his sister’s image on the video screen.
Sword, surrounded by a makeshift plexiglass barrier installed because of the pandemic, refused Guy’s delay bid, saying that dispensing justice safely and fairly is tough these days but not impossible.
“It is not easy,” Sword said. “But it certainly is something we believe we can do and do safely. … Our constitution must be followed. This case is old, and it needs to be resolved.”
Couple slain and dismembered
Authorities say Guy was enraged when his parents, Joel Guy Sr., 61, and Lisa Guy, 55, announced during the 2016 Thanksgiving holiday they would no longer foot his bills.
He’s accused of killing them inside their Knox County home and then dismembering their bodies and using various chemicals, including acid, to try to dissolve their bones.
Authorities found Lisa Guy’s severed head in a pot of boiling liquid on the kitchen stove, her husband’s severed hands on the floor of his bedroom and the couple’s severed torsos in plastic containers in a bathroom.
Guy, then a “non-matriculating” graduate student at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, was arrested soon after the slayings. He’s been jailed ever since, but the case against him stalled as the Knox County Public Defender’s office challenged the legality of various law enforcement searches.
With those issues now decided – public defenders won one challenge but lost another – the case is ripe for trial.
Judge: Justice must go on
The state Supreme Court temporarily suspended jury trials when the COVID-19 outbreak in Tennessee began in March but has since lifted that order – so long as jurors are masked and social distancing inside the courtroom achieved.
Defense attorneys across the state have cried foul, arguing trials amid the pandemic are constitutionally suspect and could be dangerous. Assistant Public Defender John Halstead made that same argument Thursday on Guy’s behalf.
“It’s harder to hear people that are wearing masks,” Halstead said. “It is difficult to see jurors’ nonverbal responses.”
Sword countered that the public is adapting to living, shopping and working in a masked society, and the justice system, too, must adapt.
“I’m going to deny the request,” Sword said. “I am mindful things may change. It’s possible (the pandemic) could get worse. If that were to be the case, we can revisit this.”
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