Matt Lakin Knoxville News Sentinel
Published 11:22 AM EDT Mar 18, 2019
MADISONVILLE, Tenn. – Prosecutors plan to call their secret star witness to court early in order to preserve the testimony they say helped crack one of East Tennessee’s oldest unsolved cases.
That witness’s name remains under wraps but could be unveiled in the next week, said Steve Crump, 10th Judicial District attorney general. Circuit Judge Andrew Freiberg set a hearing for May 3 to record that testimony and to hear any defense objections.
That witness’s words led a Monroe County grand jury to charge Max Benson Calhoun, 67, with first-degree murder in the 46-year-old killing of John Raymond Constant. Calhoun stood before the judge Monday to enter another plea of not guilty.
“I think there is far more prospect of reasonable doubt in this case,” said his lawyer, Jim Logan. “Max Benson Calhoun is not guilty.”
A cold case warmed up
Deputies found Constant’s body in the early morning hours of March 16, 1973, in the cab of a bullet-riddled pickup on the banks of what’s now Tellico Lake in Vonore. He’d been shot at least 17 times — by some accounts, maybe as many as 20 or 30 times.
A Monroe County grand jury indicted Calhoun for the first time last month, but Tennessee law requires defendants be charged under the law as written when a crime occurred. The state’s law on murder has changed since 1973, and prosecutors initially charged him under the new language, which led the defense to challenge the indictment. The new indictment appears to resolve that dispute.
Crump said a woman with a “terminal illness” approached authorities through a third party late last year with a lead that led him to reopen the case. He’s given no specifics on what the woman told investigators but said he wants to record her testimony as soon as possible to have on hand in case she doesn’t make it to trial. He said he’ll provide proof of her ailment from a doctor.
Constant’s killing has become a legend in Monroe County over the past 46 years. The lack of arrests in the case became a perennial issue in local political campaigns, and headlines hinted at “prominent people” allowed to escape justice. Rumors and law-enforcement theories have blamed everything from a love triangle to the local arm of the so-called “Dixie Mafia.”
Pulling together records from the various agencies involved – which ranged from local police to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and others – has proven a challenge, especially given the generation that’s passed since Constant’s killing, and caused some delays, Crump told the judge.
Last case dropped
Calhoun, who has no criminal record, would have been 21 the night Constant was killed. His father, H.B. Calhoun Jr., owned a garage and car wash in neighboring Etowah across the McMinn County line where authorities believe Constant’s killers gunned him down. The father died 20 years ago, never charged.
Constant, a 35-year-old truck driver, had been married five times, with his last divorce not yet final when he died. He told family members his life had been threatened and that he’d been keeping records of his trucking hauls, which authorities suspect could have involved bootleg cigarettes and other black-market goods.
The only previous arrest in Constant’s death, made in 1982, evaporated when the sole witness — the only person so far who’s publicly claimed to have been present when Constant was killed — backtracked on his testimony. That witness has died — as has the mob enforcer believed to be the triggerman — and the man accused at the time still denounces the case as a frame-up.
Calhoun remains free on $100,000 bond.
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