Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate
Authorities in Tennessee cracked the 42-year-old cold case involving the murder of an associate of union boss Jimmy Hoffa, linking his death to the state’s former governor who at the time was involved in a massive political scandal.
Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston revealed the facts of the case during a press conference on Wednesday, concluding that former Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton (D) paid a known bank robber to kill Samuel Pettyjohn, who was a close ally of Hoffa, after he agreed to cooperate with FBI agents investigating the state’s “cash-for-clemency” scandal.
Federal investigators in the 1970s started looking into whether Blanton’s office was engaged in a scheme where inmates could exchange cash for parole, according to The Associated Press. Authorities renewed the investigation in 2015.
Pinkston told reporters that Pettyjohn, starting in 1976, would meet with inmates and tell them that money could help secure an early release from prison. William Thompson, who was previously involved with Blanton’s election campaign, would join Pettyjohn in these meetings.
Pettyjohn and Thompson, according to Pinkston, would then leave payments at the governor’s office in the Capitol.
Federal investigators subpoenaed Pettyjohn to testify as part of their probe into the potential exchange of money for expedited release, according to the AP. He ultimately agreed to cooperate with authorities, testified before a federal grand jury and went as far as to provide the names of people who made payments to Blanton’s office in exchange for an early release of certain inmates.
Soon after he testified, Pettyjohn was fatally shot in downtown Chattanooga, Tenn., in an “execution style hit,” according to the AP.
Witnesses told authorities that they witnessed a Black man in a trench coat leaving Pettyjohn’s store, the AP reported. Inside the shop, Pettyjohn was found next to his pistol, which had not been fired, and had more than $100,000 on him.
Pinkston revealed that Ed Alley, a known bank robber who died in 2005 in federal prison, was hired by a number of entities to kill Pettyjohn. Alley, a white man, is said to have worn a wig, glasses and blackface to conceal his identity.
Among those entities, according to Pinkston, was an undisclosed third party who paid a portion of the contract money on behalf of the Blanton administration.
Findings from a Hamilton County grand jury determined that Pettyjohn’s murder was ordered in part because of his cooperation with authorities.
“Cooperating individuals indicated Alley admitted Pettyjohn was murdered for various reasons including he was a source of cooperation for the FBI in investigations of Gov. Ray Blanton,” findings from a Hamilton County grand jury determined, according to the AP.
The estimated price of the murder, the AP noted, was between $25,000 and $50,000.
When asked how certain he was that the Blanton administration played a part in funding Pettyjohn’s murder, Pinkston responded, “I’m very sure. I’m proof positive.”
Additional charges will not be filed because the major figures involved in the case are now dead, the wire service reported. Authorities, however, said closing the case was a form of closure for one part of a complicated moment in Tennessee history.
Blanton died in 1996.
Mike Mathis, supervisor of Hamilton County’s cold case unit, said the county chose to pursue the case because “it gives you a legal closing,” according to the AP.
While the cash-for-clemency scandal did force Blanton out of office, he was never served an indictment, according to the AP. Three of his aides, however, were indicted in the investigation.
In the final days of his governorship, Blanton enraged Tennesseans when he pardoned and commuted the terms of more than 50 inmates, the AP reported.
Democrats and Republicans in the legislature were both outraged and ultimately worked together to expedite the inauguration of his Republican successor, Lamar Alexander, by three days, the wire service reported.
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