In 2007, Tarina Simmons resided in Davidson County, Tennessee with her four children, Marcus, Cory, Tre and Aubrey. She was acquainted with Jason Bobo and Crystal Rutherford, and had actually provided these people with a warm and dry place to stay, as they were homeless. She also provided a place to sleep for two other people, Stephanie Braden and Robert Williams. Her compassion and generosity would prove to be her downfall. Tarina has no criminal history.
The Bellacino's Restaurant Robbery
On October 26, 2007 according to court documents, Jason Bobo and Crystal Rutherford were picked up from Tarina's home by a friend of theirs, Vanity Weary. They were taken to an apartment complex near Bellacino's Restaurant, where Bobo had previously worked. Weary left. Another friend, Ravaughn Harris, was present and remained behind to drive them away after the robbery. Bobo and Rutherford, left the parking lot, and walked the short distance to Bellacino's, whereupon they proceeded to rob the restaurant. During the robbery, Bobo killed two employees, by shooting them in the head at close range. Bobo and Rutherford then left the restaurant and went back to the parking lot at the apartment complex. They were picked up by Harris, who drove them to a bar where they all hung out for a while.
Later Harris took Bobo and Rutherford to Tarina's home, where they all went inside. Tarina had no idea what was going on, when they blew past her, to her bedroom. They dumped the money out of a backpack, onto her bed, and split it three ways between Harris, Bobo and Rutherford.
Tarina told them they had to get the hell out of her home, she has kids. Bobo gave Tarina five $20 bills from his pocket (not from the "loot" backpack), for having let them stay there, and they all left. Apparently ditching the empty backpack, the clothes they had been wearing, and the gun in her backyard on their way out.
Two days later, Bobo showed up at Tarina’s home. She returned the $100 to him, and ordered him to leave her property.
The "Good Samaritan" Case
On December 11, 2007 Tarina was passing by a truck and noticed two people sleeping in it. She stopped and knocked on the window to see if they were ok. The people were Stephanie Braden and Robert Williams. She invited them to stay at her home, and get inside out of the freezing cold. They accepted.
The following day, Williams and Braden left and committed a robbery in a Kroger's parking lot, wherein a man was stabbed to death by Williams. Tarina did not know anything about this crime.
Tarina Simmons #00432813
480 Green Chapel Rd.
Henning, TENNESSEE 38041
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Bobo and Rutherford were arrested shortly after their robbery. Braden and Williams were arrested soon after theirs. Only after Rutherford and Braden got together in pre-trial detention, and eleven months had passed, was Tarina Simmons implicated in any criminal activity.
Tarina was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree premeditated murder, two counts of first-degree felony murder and aggravated robbery in the Bellacino's Restaurant case, based upon statements by Rutherford implicating her in the crime.
While incarcerated in jail and awaiting trial, Tarina was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and heavily medicated with Lithium and Risperdal, which affected her cognition and functionality. [Subsequently, it was discovered that she had been mis-diagnosed, and did not need the drugs at the dosages she was given].
Tarina actually suffers from severe depression and that Lithium is contraindicated for that diagnosis, which caused her to be unable to function properly. In fact, during pretrial incarceration, she was written up for not being able to care for herself, bathe herself, etc. This further renders her state of mind during the plea proceedings questionable.
Tarina was appointed a Public Defender who (being underpaid and overworked) did not have a lot of time for her, despite the extreme gravity of the case. Despite Tarina repeatedly explaining that she was innocent, and that anyone saying different was lying, her lawyer simply told her that "someone" was willing to testify against her, and she was going to be convicted and be sentenced to serve 117 years. While the lawyer sent his assistant to see Tarina a few times, he rarely had time for her and only saw her twice other than in court appearances. Tarina was never advised as to who had given a statement against her, or the contents of the statement.
During this time, while Tarina was frightened out of her wits by her own lawyer, who was threatening her with over 100 years in prison, the lawyer came with a new threat. This new threat was that Braden and Williams were implicating her on the "Good Samaritan Case", and she was likely to face the death penalty.
THE “BEST INTEREST PLEA”
Tarina was horrified and scared out of her mind. This, and combined with being drugged half out of her mind, she eventually let the lawyer convince her to agree to a plea deal called a "best-interest plea", in which she pled to one count of second-degree murder for a sentence of 35 years. (Notably, the conviction only calls for a maximum of 25 years under Tennessee law). Tarina answered all questions during the plea proceeding, in exactly the way her lawyer told her to, and the deal was made on March 12, 2010.
Notably it was never alleged that Tarina was anywhere near the restaurant when the robbery and killings took place; the only allegation against her was that she has supposedly helped Rutherford and Bobo to plan the robbery, and purportedly "shared in the proceeds". The evidence produced after the trial court proceedings, however, demonstrates that these accusations were false.
POST TRIAL AND INVESTIGATIONS
Tarina spent a prolonged time in the county jail, where she was drugged out of her mind. Following Trial, she was transferred to prison where her mental health was stabilized and she was able to receive the proper drugs and correct dosages. It was only then that she realized what a mistake she had made.
She attempted to get relief in the court. She filed a "Post-Conviction Petition", which explained that she was coerced by her own lawyer into entering the plea and was, in fact, innocent. She was given a hearing, at which her prior lawyer testified against her, swearing up and down that he spent all kinds of time with her, and had gone over all the evidence against her, had not threatened her, had not yelled and screamed at her (which he had done). Essentially working with the Prosecutor to make sure she did not get any relief in the court, lying all the while. The Judge also rejected out of hand, the information about Tarina's mental health situation, and the medication's effect on her, because she did not have a doctor for a witness. She was refused permission to appeal from that proceeding.
Tarina was eventually able to make contact with Robert Williams, one of the two perpetrators, along with Stephanie Braden, of the "Good Samaritan Case". The Prosecutor and her lawyer used this case to threaten her with the death penalty, in order to coerce her into the plea in this case. Williams executed a Sworn Affidavit swearing that Tarina had absolutely no knowledge nor involvement in the Good Samaritan Case, on March 29, 2013.
Tarina ran into some women, who had been incarcerated with both Stephanie Baden and Crystal Rutherford while they were awaiting trial. One such witness, Tammy Middlebrook, executed a Sworn Affidavit attesting to the fact, she had been old friends with Baden, and had run into her while Baden was awaiting trial, that Baden had told her all about the crime and the involvement of Williams, and that Baden never once mentioned Tarina. This Affidavit was executed on April 1, 2013.
Two additional witnesses have executed Sworn Affidavits, attesting to the fact that they had been incarcerated with Rutherford, prior to her trial, that she admitted to them she had been involved in the Bellacino's robbery, and killings with Bobo, and that she had falsely invented Tarina's involvement, in order to give the police someone else to avoid harsher punishment for herself. These witnesses, Dominique Shields and JaVonna Black, executed their Sworn Affidavits on March 15, 2013.
A further two women, Tonia Lee Davenport Evans and Tiffany McNeal also executed Sworn Affidavits, attesting to the fact they had been incarcerated with both Baden and Rutherford while awaiting trial, and witnessed Baden advise Rutherford to accuse Tarina, in order to gain favor, and avoid the death penalty in her own case. Both of these witnesses attest to the fact that Rutherford and Baden both provided false information about Tarina to the authorities, and that they witnessed them planning to do it. These Affidavits were executed independently by these witnesses on January 5, 2015 and February 6, 2017, respectively.
When Tarina attempted to present some of these Affidavits to the Court, the Judge held that, because the new testimony Tarina uncovered was "from inmates", it was of lower credibility, and ultimately denied relief. Notably, the evidence that the same court was going to use against Tarina was also "from inmates' but there didn't seem to be any credibility issues then.
Subsequent, to all of the court proceedings, on October 29, 2019 Braden executed a Sworn Affidavit fully exonerating Tarina of any possible involvement in, or knowledge of, the Good Samaritan Case, which, as noted, was the underlying lever used to coerce Tarina into agreeing to the deal, to avoid the death penalty, which was threatened to be brought as a result of the Good Samaritan Case. Braden is very clear and straightforward in her Sworn Affidavit, that Tarina had nothing whatsoever to do with the case.
Tarina is currently awaiting a Sworn Affidavit, that Jason Bobo has agreed to provide, telling the truth, that she was not involved in the Bellacino's crimes either.
You can visit Tarina's main website at the following address, which will allow you to access some supporting documentation. We will be uploading links and documents to this page in the next few weeks. https://justice4tarinasimm.wixsite.com/tarinasimmons/tarina
Tarina will be submitting her Application for Executive Clemency to the Tennessee Governor, in the hopes of getting a Hearing to review the evidence in this case, that unequivocally proves that she is innocent of any involvement in either case. This webpage will be updated with information as to how you can support her further in this regard. If you would like to obtain automatic updates, please email us at email@example.com