Tag Archives: tennessee

Knitting store: no yarn for women’s movement protesters

You might think the pussyhat phenom would be the best thing to happen to a yarn store since the poncho craze of the early 1970s. But the owner of a Tennessee knitting store doesn’t want anyone buying its yarn for arts and crafts for the women’s movement, following weekend protests by marchers in knitted, pointy-eared hats.

Continue reading Knitting store: no yarn for women’s movement protesters

In ‘Scopes monkey trial’ home, an evolution debate rages on

In 1925, two of America’s most renowned figures faced off in the southeast Tennessee town of Dayton to debate a burning issue — whether man evolved over millions of years or was created by God in his present form.

Today, only one of the two, the Christian orator William Jennings Bryan, is commemorated with a statue on the courthouse lawn.

A group of atheists hopes to change that.

Bryan defended the Biblical account while trial lawyer and skeptic Clarence Darrow defended evolution in the “Scopes monkey trial” — formally, Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes. The case became front-page news nationwide and is memorialized in songs, books, plays and movies.

Nearly a century later, the debate pitting evolution against the biblical account of creation rages on nationally and locally. Nearly all scientists accept evolution, but many Christians see it as incompatible with their faith. Just two years ago in Dayton, professors at a Christian college named for Bryan were fired in a dispute over whether Adam and Eve were historical people.

One might expect a town that reveres Bryan to resist efforts to memorialize his antagonist, but Reed Johnson, managing editor of The Herald-News in Dayton, said that vocal resistance hasn’t materialized. He doesn’t recall angry letters to the editor.

County Commissioner Bill Hollin said he doesn’t think many people are aware of the effort, but he’s against it and thinks others will join him. “I don’t see where it would help the community at all to put it up there,” he said.

Bryan, on the other hand, represents more than the Scopes trial, Hollin said. His legacy in Dayton includes the college that was founded in 1930 and educates many of the area’s young people.

Still, townspeople are resigned to the idea of a Darrow statue, said Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, a Bryan College alumna.

“I think there is a sense that, ‘Oh, it’s only fair. We have our side, and they have their side. We have our statue, and they have their statue,” she said.

Ed Larson, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the trial called “Summer for the Gods,” said that Dayton has historically been hospitable to both sides, and that outrage over the teaching of evolution in 1925 was manufactured.

The trial is often remembered as the persecution of teacher Scopes for teaching evolution, which Tennessee had outlawed, but it actually began as a publicity stunt for Dayton, Larson said.

Larsen explained that locals had responded to a newspaper advertisement by the American Civil Liberties Union looking for someone to test Tennessee’s anti-evolution law in court. No one had complained about Scopes or his teaching; he was recruited to be the defendant, Larson said. Scopes never spent time in jail and was offered his job back after the trial, Larsen said — and Bryan even offered to pay his fine.

Evans said part of the trial’s legacy has been negative: a lasting sense that belief in evolution conflicts with Christianity, something she no longer believes.

“I grew up as a conservative evangelical, and we always heard about the trial that William Jennings Bryan was a hero who came in and put everyone in their place,” she said. “Even in college, I was told I could either believe in the Bible or I could believe in evolution.”

But many say part of the legacy is positive: Dayton has seen a stream of visitors to the red-brick courthouse in the town square that still looks much as it did when the judge moved the trial’s action onto the lawn — worried the floor would cave in from the weight of spectators — and Darrow began questioning Bryan’s views on the Bible.

The courthouse basement now holds a small museum. On the trial’s anniversary in July, a festival is held, with a courtroom play re-enacting trial scenes.

At this year’s festival, Dayton resident Richard DeArk sold hand-crafted earrings, some with a monkey theme, on the courthouse lawn near the Bryan statue. Asked about the Darrow statue, he said, “It’s about time!”

Tom Brady, the courthouse maintenance supervisor, said he hasn’t heard objections to the Darrow statue. “The trial helped Dayton,” he said.

Tom Davis, president of the Rhea County Historical and Genealogical Society, was asked to make a recommendation to the county executive about the two statues. He said in an interview that the group supported the Bryan statue in 2005 but realized at the time “if we do this, we’ll probably face a request for a Darrow statue one day, and we’ll probably have to support that.”

The American Humanist Association is raising money for the statue, but the creative side is the work of Pennsylvania sculptor Zenos Frudakis, who says Darrow is too important to the story to leave out.

Frudakis said he has the county executive’s permission to erect the statue opposite Bryan on the courthouse lawn as long as the county doesn’t have to spend any money on it and it is similar in size and style to the Bryan statue. But County Commissioner Hollin said he believes his panel will have to give its blessing first, something he does not see happening.

Frudakis said he is a fan of Darrow but doesn’t want his statue to be controversial.

“Right now they only have William Jennings Bryan there, standing alone,” Frudakis said. “Add Darrow, and it recreates the historical drama of 1925, the way it played out in the public eye and galvanized the nation.”

‘Bible bill’ vetoed by Tenn. governor

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam yesterday vetoed a bill that would have made Tennessee the only state to designate the Bible as its official book.

In his veto message, Haslam said the bill “trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text.”

The bill narrowly passed both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly. Sponsors said the law was intended to honor the role that the Bible has played in the state’s history and economy. They said it was not government endorsement of religion.

“If we believe that the Bible is the word of God, then we shouldn’t be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance,” Haslam said.

Lawmakers passed the bill despite the state attorney general’s warning that it would violate both the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions.

The Bible bill came to a vote in the state Senate just days before the candidate filing deadline, suggesting it might have been a political maneuver.

Sponsors Sen. Steve Southerland, an ordained minister, and Rep. Jerry Sexton, a retired Baptist pastor said they’d seek to override Haslam’s veto next week.

After a marathon debate last year, the bill received 55 votes in the House, or five more votes than the minimum needed to pass. In the Senate earlier this month, the bill received 19 votes, two more than the minimum.

Earlier in the session, the Legislature approved a resolution to add the .50-caliber Barrett sniper rifle to the list of the state’s official symbols, which also includes the Tennessee cave salamander, the eastern box turtle and the channel catfish.

Lawmakers also approved nine state songs, including the moonshine-themed “Rocky Top.”

Country stars challenge anti-transgender measure in Tennessee

Some of the biggest stars in country music are uniting with child welfare advocates, civil rights organizations, the business community and supporters of equality to oppose legislation in Tennessee attacking transgender students in public schools and universities.

The Human Rights Campaign on April 8 announced that Emmylou Harris, Chely Wright, Ty Herndon, Miley Cyrus, and Country Music Television are issued statements against HB 2414 and SB 2387 — discriminatory proposals that would further marginalize transgender students and make it illegal for them to use restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity.

“Transgender youth already face incredibly high levels of discrimination, bullying and harassment, and it is appalling that the state of Tennessee would consider requiring public schools to discriminate against them, too,” HRC president Chad Griffin said in a news release from the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group. “Today, some of the biggest stars in the country music industry are using their voices to try and protect these young people.”

He continued, “They join a broad chorus of parents, teachers, child welfare advocates, pediatricians, businesses and civil rights organizations urging Tennessee lawmakers to do the right thing and stop discrimination against transgender youth. Tennessee should block this hateful legislation and commit to ensuring every child has the right to learn without being subjected to discrimination or fear.”

Over the past month, bills with language similar to Tennessee’s proposal were vetoed in South Dakota, but enacted in North Carolina, where lawmakers have faced backlash, including boycotts.

On April 8, country music leaders spoke out against the Tennessee legislation:

“Those who love and make country music do so because at its best it speaks to the pain and suffering everyone shares in this life. Let’s not make that life harder still for some, with this mean spirited and unnecessary legislation.” — Emmylou Harris

“As an artist living and working in Nashville for more than 20 years, I know how hard it was to struggle for acceptance as a gay woman. The deck is stacked even higher against transgender students who face dramatically increased rates of bullying. This bill will send a devastating message to transgender youth that they are not welcome, included or valued. It goes without saying that their classmates and their communities will hear this message loudly and clearly too; emboldening many of them to double down on that harassment. I have a lot of friends in Nashville with great, big voices and it’s time that we all use our voices to stand up against this scourge of unnecessary, hateful legislation in Tennessee.” — Chely Wright

“As a recording artist and resident of Tennessee this matter breaks my heart. Therefore I stand and join other supporters of equality calling on Tennessee’s elected officials to reject legislation that would harm and marginalize transgender children, already among our most vulnerable young people.  Discrimination is always wrong, but it’s particularly heartbreaking to see legislators considering terrible measures targeting, instead of supporting, our children. When I told my mother I’m gay, her only concern was that I would have a happy and successful life. Because My Life Mattered. Let her be our example.”  — Ty Herndon

“For a moment a few weeks ago, it seemed like lawmakers in Tennessee had really heard the brave testimony of a transgender young person and her parents. A mother’s simple ask to legislators about what they would do if it was their child who was transgender hit a nerve, and the anti-transgender bill was sent to a summer study session, seemingly killing if for this year. But that was two weeks ago – a lifetime ago, it seems, in light of all that has happened since – and that bill is back.” — Miley Cyrus

“Viacom and CMT have a deep commitment to tolerance, diversity and inclusion, and discriminatory laws like HB2414 and SB2387 are inconsistent with our values. As proud members of Tennessee’s welcoming and vibrant business community, we implore state lawmakers to reject these proposals.” — Viacom and Country Music Television

Subcommittee defeats Tennessee bill to reject Supreme Court ruling, eliminate marriage equality

The Tennessee House Civil Justice Subcommittee this week voted down a measure that would have eliminated marriage equality in the state and required the state to defend marriage as “between one man and one woman” — even if that mean foregoing federal funding.

“As the first vote this year on the nearly 100 anti-LGBT bills being considered across 24 states, this is certainly encouraging news from Tennessee,” said Sarah Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign. “We will remain vigilant in case this legislation should resurface in any other form, and continue to work with our local partners to fight other anti-LGBT legislation in the Tennessee Legislature.”

Chris Sanders of Tennessee Equality Project, a statewide LGBT civil rights group, added, “We are grateful that this bill will not be moving this session and remain watchful of any attempts to discriminate against LGBT Tennesseans.”

An analysis by the Tennessee General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee determined that passage of the bill would have cost the state upwards of $8 billion annually.

The legislation voted down today is part of an onslaught of anti-LGBT bills being pushed in 2016 by anti-equality activists around the country. At least 100 Anti-LGBT bills are pending in 24 states, including in Wisconsin.

Abuse video leads McDonald’s and Tyson to cut ties with chicken farmer

McDonald’s and its supplier Tyson Foods say they’ve cut ties with a chicken farmer after an an animal welfare group released a video taken with a hidden camera showing abusive practices at the farm.

The video was released by Mercy for Animals, an animal rights group that says it has released more than 40 similar videos in the past.

The footage shows people scooping chickens into a bucket by whacking them with a pole with a spike on the end and standing on birds’ heads to break their necks.

Tyson Foods Inc. said in a statement that it was investigating the situation, but that it terminated the farmer’s contract “based on what we currently know.” McDonald’s Corp. said in a statement that it supported Tyson’s decision to terminate its contract with the farmer in question.

“We’re working with Tyson Foods to further investigate this situation and reinforce our expectations around animal health and welfare at the farm level,” McDonald’s said in a statement.

The farm in Tennessee identified by Mercy for Animals could not immediately be reached.

The farm supplied chicken for McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets, according to Mercy for Animals. McDonald’s said the farm may have also supplied chicken for menu items including grilled and deep-fried chicken filets and its McChicken sandwich.

Tyson said in its statement that the video doesn’t reflect the treatment of chickens by the thousands of farmers that supply it. But Matt Rice, director of investigations for Mercy for Animals, said the group’s investigators walk away with images that “shock and horrify” every time they go on site at a farm.

“Unfortunately this type animal abuse runs rampant in the animal agriculture industry,” Rice said.

Mercy for Animals is asking McDonald’s to adopt a number of animal welfare policies, such as giving chickens more space, ending breeding practices designed to make chickens grow so quickly that they develop health problems, and the installation of video monitoring on farms.

Rice said Mercy for Animals has requested meetings with Tyson, but said the company has declined its requests. A representative for Tyson, Gary Mickelson, said Tyson has previously offered to meet with the group.

On the Web …



Walker issues order to arm National Guard

Republican Gov. Scott Walker issued an executive order on July 21 authorizing Wisconsin National Guard personnel to carry firearms while on duty in the wake of an attack on a pair of military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The governor’s order directed Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, who oversees the Wisconsin National Guard, to arm guard personnel “as reasonably necessary.” Walker also said in a news release that he ordered Dunbar to review the long-term security plans for all of the guard’s facilities.

“Safety must be our top priority, especially in light of the horrific attack in Chattanooga,” Walker said in the release.

Dunbar immediately ordered the posting of armed guardsmen at the guard’s four storefront recruiting stations in Eau Claire, La Crosse, Madison and Milwaukee, said Maj. Paul Rickert, the guard’s spokesman. Visitors to those locations should be prepared to have their bags searched, Rickert said. The guard began a security review Monday evening after learning the order was about to come down, he added.

Walker’s order comes after a gunman killed four U.S. Marines and a Navy sailor at two Chattanooga military facilities on Thursday. Authorities say the shooter was 24-year-old Muhammed Youssef Abdulazeez, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Kuwait. Police killed him.

Abdulazeez’s motives remain unclear, although authorities are treating it as a domestic terrorism investigation.

Walker’s order would not affect non-Wisconsin National Guard military offices in the state, which are federally run.

Walker, who is seeking the 2016 presidential nomination, on Friday called for an end on a ban on service members carrying guns in federally operated military recruiting offices. Jeb Bush and Donald Trump, two other Republicans seeking the presidential nomination, called for an end to the ban on the same day as Walker.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, yet another GOP presidential hopeful, issued an executive order on Friday authorizing his state’s National Guard leader to arm personnel. A number of other governors have issued similar orders as well.

Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais said he has drafted legislation that would repeal bans on military personnel carrying firearms at military recruitment facilities and bases. Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he plans to introduce a similar bill.

Meanwhile, a group of veterans has taken to gathering in front of a joint Marine-Navy recruiting station in Madison to protest the weapons ban, saying it leaves recruiters vulnerable to attack.

David Walters, 30, and Chip Beduhn, 44, both of Baraboo, leaned against their motorcycles outside the station on Tuesday while an American flag the recruiters brought out to them flapped in the breeze. For them, it was more about showing support for the military than the weapons ban.

“If it could happen in Chattanooga, it could happen here,” said Beduhn, who works as a security guard. “If I can do anything to prevent it, I would.” Walters said he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and was packing.

Walters, an Army veteran with thickly muscled forearms, a beard and sunglasses, said he served in Iraq and Afghanistan and he wanted to show people that the country cares about the military.

“People in general as a nation still need to see we’re capable of good things, of coming together,” Walters said. “It’s about showing support as a veteran to guys who are still serving. They’re always going to be your brothers and sisters.”

Capt. Jim Stenger, a spokesman for the Marines’ 9th District, said the corps appreciates the support but doesn’t want citizens standing guard at offices.

“Our continued public trust lies among our trained first responders for the safety of the communities where we live and work,” he said in an emailed statement.

On the docket: Marriage equality cases to be heard April 28

Look for the landmark in late June. 

Late in the Supreme Court session, probably just before taking a summer break, the justices will rule on four marriage equality cases. The cases, consolidated under Obergefell v. Hodges, are set for oral argument on April 28.

A glance at what’s ahead …

The constitutional questions:

• Does the 14th Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

• Does the 14th Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state?

The cases:

• Obergefell v. Hodges from Ohio.

• DeBoer v. Snyder from Michigan.

• Tanco v. Haslam from Tennessee.

• Bourke v. Beshear from Kentucky.

When the case is decided, it will be under Obergefell v. Hodges.

The plaintiffs’ case:

Mary L. Bonauto, who helped launch the gay marriage movement, and Doug Hallward-Driemeier, who has argued before the court 14 times, will present the case for marriage equality to the justices.

Bonauto will present arguments on the question: Does the 14th Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

Plaintiffs’ briefs make the argument that they are seeking equal access to the institution of marriage, that access to marriage is a “fundamental right.”

Hallward-Driemeir will present arguments on the question: Does the 14th Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

Plaintiffs’ briefs draw arguments from the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Windsor case, which overturned Section 3 of DOMA and stated that failure to recognize a marriage entered into legally “imposes a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriage.”

The defendants’ case: 

John J. Bursch, a special assistant attorney general in Michigan, will argue on the question of whether a state can prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.

Joseph F. Whalen, an associate state solicitor general in Tennessee, will argue on the question of whether a state can refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from another state.

Defendants’ briefs argue that the 14th Amendment does not define marriage and thus defining marriage should be left to the states, that state bans on gay marriage are intended to codify a traditional definition of marriage not to discriminate against gays and that same-sex couples are seeking to create a “new” constitutional right.

What to look for: 

Court observers always pay close attention to the questions the justices ask during oral argument, and there are some key questions to consider, according to the experts at ScotusBlog.com. Will the justices show concern for a 1972 ruling in which the Supreme Court ruled that a claim to same-sex marriage does not raise a “substantial federal question?” Does the Constitution leave the definition of marriage for state lawmakers or voters to decide? And what role will Justice Anthony M. Kennedy play? Kennedy wrote the majority decision in the Windsor case. Before that ruling, same-sex couples could marry in nine states and the District of Columbia. Since June 26, 2013, same-sex marriage has become legal in 27 more states.

The stakes: 

A ruling from the high court could allow for nationwide marriage equality. “The nine justices of the Supreme Court have an urgent opportunity to guarantee fairness for countless families, once and for all,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group.

The polls: 

Public support for marriage equality continues to rise, even in the states still prohibiting gays and lesbians from marrying:

• Since 2004, public support in every state increased on average 2.6 percent, according to data from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

• Since 2012, public support in every state increased 6.2 percent every year.

• By 2014, support for marriage equality exceeded 50 percent in 36 states and the District of Columbia.

The action:

The Unite for Marriage Coalition is coordinating a rally outside the Supreme Court on April 28. The coalition also is working to hold actions in other locations, which are posted at uniteformarriage.org. As WiG went to press, dozens of events were scheduled but none planned in Wisconsin.

To monitor oral argument, ScotusBlog.com and CNN.com provide live coverage from the courthouse.

Obergefell v. Hodge is the only case scheduled for argument that day. The court has allotted 150 minutes, beginning at about 10 a.m. EST.

Tennessee House votes to make Bible official state book

The Tennessee state House ignored serious constitutional concerns — and the wishes of Republican leaders in the Statehouse — in voting to make the holy Bible the official state book.

The chamber approved the measure 55-38 on April 15. It is sponsored by Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton, a former pastor, who argued that his proposal reflects the Bible’s historical, cultural and economic impact in Tennessee.

Tennessee’s attorney general, Herbert Slatery, warned in a legal opinion earlier this week that the bill would violate separation of church and state provisions of both the federal and state constitutions.

Constitutional concerns raised over similar proposals in Mississippi and Louisiana caused lawmakers there to drop those measures in recent years. While Tennessee supporters acknowledged the likelihood of a lawsuit if the bill becomes law, several said it would be worth the expense.

“There are some things that are worth standing up for,” said Rep. Andy Holt, a Republican. “Markets, money and military are meaningless without morals. I think it’s time for our body to make a stand.”

Several lawmakers raised concerns about putting the Bible on par with innocuous state symbols such as the official salamander, tree and beverage.

“‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ is a book, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is a book,” said Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain. “The Bible is the word of God, it’s a whole a whole different level.”

Supporters were dismissive of concerns raised during the floor debate.

“It’s not just a book,” Sexton said. “I base my life, my ministry and my family on this book.”

Rep. Micah Van Huss said if the Bible becomes the state book, people won’t be required to worship or follow Christianity.

“The dog and the cat are state symbols and nobody in Tennessee is required to purchase a dog or a cat,” the Republican said.

Sexton said nothing prevents other works to be named official state books alongside the Bible. Tennessee, after all, has several state songs, he said.

The measure would need to be approved by the Senate before heading to the desk of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who opposes it. The governor wouldn’t tell reporters whether he’d veto the measure.

Senate sponsor Steve Southland told the Citizen Tribune of Morristown that he expects the governor would allow the measure to become law without his signature. Haslam appeared surprised by Southerland’s prediction.

“He must be reading my mind somehow — or attempting to,” Haslam said. “That’s definitely not coming from us.”

Other prominent opponents of the measure include the Republican speakers of both chambers, Sen. Ron Ramsey and Beth Harwell, along with the Senate and House GOP leaders, Rep. Gerald McCormick and Sen. Mark Norris.

Norris told reporters it would be “a dark day for Tennessee” if the Senate approves the bill on April 16.

“All I know is that I hear Satan snickering, he loves this kind of mischief,” Norris said. “You just dumb the good book down far enough to make it whatever it takes to make it a state symbol, and you’re on your way to where he wants you.”

Tennessee attorneys: Sterilizations of women were part of plea deal talks

Nashville, Tennessee, prosecutors have made sterilization of women part of plea negotiations at least four times in the past five years, and the district attorney has banned his staff from using the invasive surgery as a bargaining chip after the latest case.

In the most recent case, first reported by The Tennessean, a woman with a 20-year history of mental illness had been charged with neglect after her 5-day-old baby mysteriously died. Her defense attorney says the prosecutor assigned to the case wouldn’t go forward with a plea deal to keep the woman out of prison unless she had the surgery.

Defense attorneys say there have been at least three similar cases in the past five years, suggesting the practice may not be as rare as people think and may happen more often outside the public view and without the blessing of a court .

Sterilization coerced by the legal system evokes a time in America when minorities, the poor and those deemed mentally unfit or “deficient” were forced to undergo medical procedures that prevented them from having children. 

“The history of sterilization in this country is that it is applied to the most despised people — criminals and the people we’re most afraid of, the mentally ill — and the one thing that that these two groups usually share is that they are the most poor. That is what we’ve done in the past, and that’s a good reason not to do it now,” said Paul Lombardo, a law professor and historian who teaches at Georgia State University.

Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk agrees. A former defense attorney who took over the office in September, he recently ordered lawyers in his office not to seek sterilization by defendants. He said he hadn’t heard of it happening before but didn’t ask.

Funk said people could be ordered to stay away from children, and the state wouldn’t have to resort to such invasive measures.

“The bottom line is the government can’t be ordering a forced sterilization,” Funk said.

However, such deals do happen.

In West Virginia, a 21-year-old unmarried mother of three agreed to have her tubes tied in 2009 as part of her probation after she pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

And last year, a Virginia man who fathered children with several women agreed to undergo a vasectomy in exchange for less prison time in a child endangerment case.

Forced sterilization came up in a different way in California last year, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that banned state prisons from forcing female inmates to be sterilized. The law was pushed through after the Center for Investigative Reporting found that nearly 150 female prisoners had been sterilized between 2006 and 2010. An audit found that the state failed to make sure the inmate’s consent was lawfully obtained in every case .

The most recent Nashville case involved Jasmine Randers, 36, who had been under court supervision for mental illness when she left her home state of Minnesota. She gave birth in West Memphis, Arkansas, then fled a homeless shelter to come to Nashville, said her attorney, assistant public defender Mary-Kathryn Harcombe.

Court records show Randers reported awakening in a motel, where she’d slept in a bed with the baby, only to find the child unresponsive. She reportedly called a taxi two hours later and took the child to a local hospital, where the infant was pronounced dead.

There was no sign of injury, and the cause of death was undetermined.

Police later learned that in 2004, Randers stabbed herself in the stomach while pregnant, though the fetus was not harmed. She told investigators that it happened when she fell down the stairs while cutting fruit.

The assistant district attorney who worked the case, Brian Holmgren, is a child prosecutor who speaks around the country, was once a senior attorney with the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse and serves on the international advisory board of the National Center for Shaken Baby Syndrome. He has been both praised and fiercely criticized for his aggressive courtroom tactics on behalf of children.

Harcombe said he previously asked that another client agree to be sterilized in order to get a plea deal. She refused and it didn’t become part of the plea deal reached in that case. 

Holmgren did not respond to several messages seeking comment.

Nashville defense attorney Carrie Searcy said Holmgren asked that two of her clients who gave birth to children who tested positive for drugs undergo sterilization. Neither did, Searcy said, because both women had already undergone the procedure.

Assistant public defender Joan Lawson, who also supervises other attorneys, said she also had been involved in cases in which a prosecutor had put sterilization on the table. Lawson said it was typically not an explicit demand, was not an everyday occurrence and was made off the record. Lawson said she refused the idea and resolved her cases without sterilization.

“It’s always been more of ‘If your client is willing to do this, then I might be inclined to talk about probation,”” Lawson said.

This time, when Holmgren insisted Randers ungero sterilization to avoid prison, Harcombe complained to his boss. The district attorney took over the case, and Randers was not sterilized. The prosecutor agreed Randers was mentally ill, and she was institutionalized after being found not guilty by reason of insanity.

“Any time a woman is given a choice between prison and this surgery, that is inherently coercive, even in cases where there is no mental illness,” Harcombe said.