Constant murder suspect's court appearance reset for March 18

Harold Buckner

Some observers might have thought new revelations were coming in a 46-year-old murder case Monday morning.

However, all that was done in Criminal Court in Madisonville was 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump promising the judge that the state would have everything straightened out by March 18 to move forward in the case.

Almost out of the clear blue sky, Max Benson Calhoun, 67, Englewood, was indicted earlier this month for the 1973 murder of 36-year-old McMinn County truck driver John Raymond Constant Jr.

Calhoun was brought into Monroe County Criminal Court on Monday to appear before Judge Sandra Donaghy. However, after Donaghy said she was not the judge officially assigned to the case, there was not much Calhoun or his attorney James Logan could do.

Donaghy said while she could take Calhoun’s plea of not guilty, she could not rule on his request to either dismiss the case or lower his bond, which has been set at $1 million.

Crump said he did not expect any big delays in the case, but there were two witnesses in poor health and he hoped, if nothing else, to depose them both in case they could not appear in court during the trial. When told Andrew Frieberg, the judge assigned to the trial, would not be back in Monroe County until March 18, Crump said the state should be ready to reply to the dismal and bond motions Calhoun’s attorney had filed.

Logan has filed papers asking that the murder charge against Calhoun be dismissed, and if that dismissal is not granted, he has asked that Calhoun’s bond be lowered to a more “reasonable price.”

Logan filed paperwork saying Calhoun is being charged under a law that did not exist at the time of the alleged crime and therefore the charge should be dismissed.

In his filing, Logan said that the wording of the law changed slightly in May 1973, after the alleged crime in March 1973, rendering the charge unlawful in this case. He also said Tennessee did not have capital punishment in 1973, meaning the state cannot pursue the death penalty against Calhoun if the case goes forward.

Logan also filed a motion saying Calhoun’s $1 million bond is unconstitutional and needed to be lowered. He states in the filing that in Tennessee, someone charged with murder receives a $100,000 bond.

Constant’s murder has long been one of Monroe County’s main unsolved murder cases. Crump said in a Feb. 12 press conference that a person, who claims to know what happened to Constant, came forward in December and they had a terminal disease and wanted the truth to be known.

The history of the case has become well known the in the past month. The Democrat newspaper, then owned by Dan Hicks Jr., published updates in 1987 on what was then already a 14-year-old case.

Constant’s bullet-riddled body was found in a pickup truck under a bridge in Vonore on Mach 16, 1973. Published reports at the time of the murder said Constant had been shot with two different kinds of weapons. One school of thought said Constant was actually shot in a car wash stall in Etowah but it was made to look like he was ambushed in Vonore. When asked about that theory, Crump declined to comment in his press conference on Feb. 12.

A man who lived close to where Constant was found said he was watching TV between 8-9 p.m. that evening when he heard several quick shots. The man also said a car with a loud muffler passed his house both before and after the shots.

Reports also said Constant was last seen in a garage owned by H. B. Calhoun in Etowah. H.B. Calhoun’s son, Max, now stands charged with killing Constant.

In a 1987 article, Constant’s ex-wife said Constant was scared he would be killed because he knew too much about crooked dealings involving certain public officials.

Harold Buckner, a former McMinn County deputy, was charged with Constant’s murder in the early 1980s but he was eventually cleared. Testimony from a witness who remembered seeing something at the car wash in Etowah was found to have come while under hypnosis and he later said didn’t know exactly whom he had seen in the car and could not prove it was Buckner.

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