Motion to ban missing recording testimony denied

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Sep. 13—A defense motion to ban evidence from a missing audio recording between the husband whose wife died of a drug overdose and the person who sold drugs to the victim was denied following a hearing in Cumberland County Criminal Court.

Efforts by attorneys for Diana Grasso of Otisville, NY, attempted to have tossed any testimony relating to a recorded conversation between Mitchell Meade and Grasso about the drug death of Julia Meade, 59, Arrowhead Dr., Lake Tansi.

In order for the evidence to be barred from being presented to a jury, defense attorneys Stephanie Johnson of Sparta and Jeremy Trapp of Smithville would have to prove the loss of the recording was due to negligence.

Criminal Court Judge Gary McKenzie ruled that he found no negligence associated with the lost recording.

The case centers around the death of Julia Meade who died at her home in July 2018 from what authorities said was a drug overdose. It is alleged the Meades traveled to New York to purchase cocaine from Grasso for a celebration of Julia Meade's 60th birthday. Investigators claim the death was caused by fentanyl being in the cocaine.

Testimony showed Mitchell Meade had told investigators that he and his wife used cocaine "about once or twice" a year, mostly on special occasions.

Grasso was later indicted on a second-degree murder charge.

Assistant District Attorney Philip Hatch called Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Billy Miller to testify during the hearing. Miller said Mitchell Meade cooperated with authorities, who urged him to call Grasso and inform her of the death.

The conversation was recorded by Sheriff's Investigator David Hamby in hopes of obtaining incriminating information from Grasso. Once that call was completed, Miller testified he took a thumb drive containing the only copy of the conversation to his office to download on a work computer.

Miller testified when he launched the process, he received a message that there was nothing on the drive and he immediately stopped the process.

The drive was sent to the TBI lab in Nashville where forensic agents attempted to recover the missing conversation but were not successful.

Miller said he was told the recording failure mostly likely was caused by a failure of a computer battery system.

Weeks later a second call from Meade to Grasso was made, and this conversation was also recorded, according to testimony.

Johnson argued the missing audio recording could have contained information that would have been helpful to her client's defense and because that opportunity was lost, none of the conversation should be used in court.

In addition, the state was relying on the memories of Hamby and Miller concerning a conversation three years old and that defense attorneys don't know what they may have forgotten during that time period.

Hatch responded the state had two subsequent recordings — one recorded phone call and one in-person interview — "that basically have the same content."

After his ruling, McKenzie continued the case to Nov. 16.

Michael Moser may be reached at mmoser@crossville-chronicle.com

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