Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Charges dropped against teenage boys in Smoky Mountains fire; feds could act

Tennessee prosecutors have dropped charges against the two teenagers accused of setting the deadly fire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last November, reports Jamie Satterfield of The Knoxville News Sentinel. However, they could still face federal charges.

Defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs, who represents one of the boys, said the state could not prove that the teens, ages 15 and 17, started the fire. District Attorney Jimmy Dunn wrote in a statement that he couldn't pin the fire on the boys, citing high winds that accidentally spread embers into Gatlinburg.

Dunn has been at the center of increasing controversy in the case, since critics say that local and state agencies have used his prosecution of the teens to keep from having to release public records about fire and emergency response to the disaster, the News Sentinel notes.

Furthermore, the newspaper found records showing that state authorities have not had the legal authority to prosecute crimes in the park since 1997. "Those records show the park was left out of a 1997 agreement giving both state and federal agencies authority to prosecute crimes committed on federal lands," reports The News Sentinel.

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