The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

April 23, 2013

BREAKING: Murderer to go free after only 11 years in prison

By Jean Cole

ATHENS — An Athens man once sentenced to 23 years in prison for his part in a 2002 murder-for-hire will be freed after serving only half that time in prison.

Under a plea agreement reached by defense attorney Harlan Mitchell and Limestone County District Attorney Brian Jones, Anthony “Andy” Houston Dugger, 38, will soon be released after serving only 11 years in prison, according to Jones and jail records.

Dugger will remain on supervised probation in Limestone County for three more years, the district attorney said.

Dugger admitted conspiring with Melissa Jarrett of Athens and Chad Reece of Elkmont in the November 2002 murder of Melissa’s husband, Shane Jarrett.

Jones and Mitchell reached the agreement because of a due-process claim by the defense and because of the wishes of the victim’s father.

“After considering the wishes of the victim’s father, a plea agreement was entered where in Dugger withdrew his plea of mental disease or defect and pled guilty to murder,” Jones said. “He received a 20-year sentence and was given credit for the 11 years he has been incarcerated. The sentence was split and the remaining time will be served on supervised probation.”

Shane’s father, Waylon Jarrett Sr., swore in an affidavit to the court that he supported the plea agreement. That affidavit read, in part, “Chad Christopher Reece was the person who shot and killed my son. However, this was at the direction of my then daughter-in-law, Melissa Kay Freeman Jarrett. Anthony Houston Dugger was also charged and convicted of the murder of my son ... It was Dugger who, when confronted with the alleged conspiracy of the murder of my son, came to police and confessed as to each person’s involvement. Had it not been for Dugger, I would have never, ever learned of what truly happened to my son …”

Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson had this to say about Dugger’s early release:

“The Athens Police presented strong evidence that supported charging all three with capital murder,” Johnson said. “The three chose not to risk a capital murder conviction and pleaded guilty to murder. We were satisfied with two of the defendants getting life and one getting 23 years. It is our opinion that Dugger was as much a part of the murder plot as the two serving life sentences. I have a tough stance on violent crime and would have preferred he serve his full sentence.”

Defense claim

On Aug. 6, 2012, Dugger’s new attorney, Mitchell, filed a “post-conviction Rule 32 petition,” asking the court to set aside Dugger’s original sentence.

Mitchell raised the due-process claim over Dugger’s original plea of not guilty by mental disease or defect.

On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Robert Baker held a hearing on the defense’s motion.

“The hearing today was to determine whether or not his original attorney ever had a mental evaluation performed prior to the plea,” Jones said.

“Testimony was taken in court regarding the prior plea. It was apparent that Anthony Dugger was never evaluated and did not waive that defense prior to entering his guilty plea. Dugger has been incarcerated since 2002 and, during that time, has been evaluated by the Department of Corrections.”

Following testimony Tuesday before the judge, the state, through Jones, conceded the point in the petition and the original conviction was set aside.

The murder

Athens Police detectives determined Dugger and Melissa Jarrett were lovers when Shane was killed in January 2002 after returning home from a false call to his wrecker service. Shane was shot when he walked down the hallway of his Wheeler Street mobile home, detectives said. His wife was inside the home at the time. Police later arrested Dugger and Reece of Elkmont in connection with the crime. Dugger confessed that he made the false call to the wrecker service and that Melissa and Reece were also involved.

Dugger was initially charged with capital murder in the case and would have faced the death penalty or life without parole if he had been convicted on that charge.

He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of murder in February 2007 and was facing a sentence of 20 years to life.

Under a plea agreement between Dugger’s former attorney, Dan Totten, and then-District Attorney Kristi Valls, Dugger was sentenced to serve only 23 years in prison because of his willingness to testify against his co-conspirators.

Valls told The News Courier in 2007, “While he (Dugger) was in jail, he told us Melissa was involved, and (he) agreed to be wired while making a phone call to her. After that phone conversation, she confessed.”

Melissa and Reece pleaded guilty and are serving life sentences for their roles in the murder.