John Bailey, 48, was arrested by Newbern Police investigators on Sept. 1, 2011, for the murder of Helen Robertson inside her home on Patty Drive in Newbern. Since his arrest, Bailey has been held in the Dyer County Jail in lieu of a $350,000 bond. According to investigators, Bailey shot Robertson in the head, through an outside window at her home using a single-shot 12-gauge shotgun. Investigators pegged Bailey as a suspect and he ultimately confessed to the crime in a recorded statement.
Bailey's murder trial began on Wednesday in Dyer County Circuit Court in front of Judge Lee Moore. District Attorney Phil Bivens prosecuted the case while Bailey was represented by District Public Defender Jimmy Lanier.
After Bivens called numerous people to take the stand including expert witnesses and investigators, Bailey took the stand and recanted his confession, saying it was made under duress and that he was innocent. He told the jury he was not the person who killed Robertson, but he said he did see an unknown assailant perform the murder while he watched from a distance.
Bailey's case did not qualify for the death penalty since that type of sentencing requires aggravating factors. Bivens said none of those factors were present in this case.
After the sentencing, Lanier said he could not comment on the case, other than to say he will file an appeal.
"Mr. Bailey wishes to pursue an appeal and I will do that," said Lanier.
Bivens noted the case was based on evidence provided by the Newbern Police investigators and the jurors made the right decision.
The families of both Bailey and Robertson were in the courtroom when the verdict was read. John Bailey's brother the Rev. Terry Bailey was present and gave a statement.
"We are just sad," said Rev. Bailey. "And we regret anything that happened."
NPD Lt. Greg Barr and Lt. Rodney Wright investigated the case and both said they were pleased with the verdict in the tragic case.
"I am well pleased the jury ruled the way they did," said Wright. "There was a lot of evidence put before them and they had a lot to consider. We worked hard on the case and the DA's office did a great job presenting the case. Our system is designed to work off of the facts and that is what it did. Both families ended up losing a family member and we are sympathetic to that."
During the trial, Bivens called local attorney Tommy Weakley, former NPD Officer Keith Ozment, a state weapons expert, Barr, Wright, and Shelby County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Karen Chancellor to take the stand. Weakley represented Robertson in a custody battle over her daughter from Bailey's alleged girlfriend at the time of the murder, Tracy Ham. Ozment was the responding officer on the night of Aug. 31 and was the first officer at the crime scene. The crime was reported around 10:30 p.m. on the evening of Aug. 31. Barr and Wright both gave testimony they were initially turned on to Bailey as a suspect after discovering the reported custody battle over one of Robertson's daughters and Ham. They discovered Bailey lived with Ham and brought the two in for questioning, where Bailey later admitted to the murder. The weapons expert reportedly testified the gun found at the scene fired intermittently. And it was used to fire the shell found in the chamber and was used on one unspent shell found by investigators near the Newbern Municipal Golf Course. Bailey had originally drawn investigators a map telling them where to find the unspent shell on the golf course. During Dr. Chancellors' testimony, she stated Robertson's death was caused by a shotgun and was classified as a homicide.
After their testimony, Bivens rested the state's case and Lanier called Bailey to take the stand.
Bailey testified he did give the investigators a statement admitting he murdered Robertson by shooting her through the window of her house with a shotgun. However, he said he gave that statement under duress and he did not kill Robertson. Instead, Bailey said he drove down Highway 211 on the evening of Aug. 31 and parked his vehicle at a building where wrestling matches are held and went for a walk. Bailey stated he walked frequently to keep his joints lubricated because he suffered from severe joint pain and degenerative bone disorder. He stated to the jury he was walking near Patty Drive that evening and during his walk he saw a person dressed in black in Robertson's yard. He said the person that was in the yard fired the shot and then ran off. Bailey further stated he then left the area and went for a drive and later went to the Newbern Municipal Golf Course for a walk. Hours after he saw the person shoot through Robertson's window, he said he saw what he believed to be was the same person running near the golf course and dropped something near a fence row. He later went to look and was able to find a shotgun shell. Bailey said he did not report what he had seen to police because he did not want to get involved.
The jury did not believe Bailey's story of another assailant and he was only a witness to the crime and handed down their verdict of guilty of first-degree murder. His required sentence of life with parole is a mandatory 60 years in prison. Tennessee law allows a maximum of nine years off of the 60 years and Bailey already has jail credit of 2.4 years from the time of his arrest.