JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. - Saying he could not continue presiding over the case against Howard Hawk Willis' mother because he could not be neutral, Criminal Court Judge Lynn Brown turned it over to a colleague last week.
Emma Elizabeth Hawk is accused of helping her son cover up the murder and dismemberment of a newlywed teenage couple from Georgia.
Seventeen-year-old Adam Chrismer's hands and head were found in a Johnson City lake and his body, along with that of his 16-year-old wife Samantha Leming, were found in a Johnson City storage shed rented by Hawk.
Brown said he could no longer preside over Hawk's trial because of evidence he heard during the probation hearing for her sister, who was sentenced to two months in jail for trying to destroy a reputed confession tape.
The tape played at the hearing for Marie Holmes included repeated orders from the sisters to Willis' ex-wife that she erase a tape in which he confessed to killing Chrismer and Leming.
"I've already heard the evidence on one of the charges against Ms. Hawk ... and it's almost as if this court has heard her case tried and she wasn't here," Brown said Friday. "Under those circumstances, under the rules of ethics, the court has no choice but to recuse itself and give this to another judge."
Hawk, 72, is charged with two counts of abuse of a corpse and one count each of being an accessory after the fact of first-degree murder and soliciting the tampering of evidence.
"If I can't come in with an open mind and be just completely fair and unopinionated and unbiased, I'm not going to try a case," he said.
He gave the case to fellow Criminal Court Judge Bob Cupp and it was reset for Oct. 14.
Brown will continue to preside over the case against Willis, who is charged with two counts each of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse.
Clifton Corker, Hawk's attorney, said his client did not have an opinion about whether there was an advantage to Brown giving up the case.
"She wants Judge Brown to make the right decisions, and I think if Judge Brown has a concern about his ability to do so, then he did the right thing," he said.