Rewind: Very active 2012 Memphis fall - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Rewind: Very active 2012 Memphis fall

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

It's tentative passage, in light of the moral conflict it posed for some Memphis City Council members, was considered by many as a "miracle."

But, proponents of an amendment to add sexual orientation to the language of the city's non-discrimination ordinance were ready to push the envelop all the way before the council's final vote in mid-October. A "roll the dice," all or nothing move, for full inclusion with the addition of transgender city employees under the discrimination umbrella.

"We want to challenge the Memphis City Council to go one step further," said Jonathon Cole. "Making this a fully inclusive non-discrimination ordinance, by amending the ordinance even further by adding gender identity and expression."


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"If you want to go down the path of having religious authorities set the law, civil laws, there's a country, that does that," said Chad Johnson, AFSCME Executive Director. "It's called Iran. Things don't seem to work out there. We tend not to agree with that."

With two additional council votes the amendment and the entire ordinance passed. Still no word on the reaction from Teheran to that vote.

But, even a grumpy old Ayatollah might enjoy a jaunt through the Cooper-Young community. Once a non-descript corner of Midtown Memphis, perseverance and a shared vision have transformed the community into a vibrant and active district elevated in 2012 to be named as one of the "Top 10 Great Neighborhoods in the country by the American Planners Association. A well-deserved honor for a community that prides itself as the self-proclaimed "Soho of the South.

It was the hit that became his signature song. But, nobody was happy with the way the final curtain came down on the life of popular Memphis musician B.B. Cunningham. In mid-October, working as an apartment security guard, Cunningham was gunned down after he responded to the sound of shots fired at an adjacent complex. A 16-year-old child was also killed.

Friend, George Klein, noted Cunningham's attempt to help was reflective of a man who never let his enduring stardom overshadow his humanity.

"I called him. You'd say, 'hey, we got a charity affair here, B.B. Could you get the Hombres together and bring it one more time?'," Klein recalled. "He said, 'sure.' There was no check my calendar."

International superstar cellist Yo Yo Ma has for years used the power of his fame to encourage young audiences to embrace the diversity of music and dance. In a memorable appearance at Colonial Middle School's Performing Arts Center in Memphis, the enthusiastically hands-on Ma participated in an hour long program that featured student performances of everything from hip-hop, to flamenco and ballet.

Ma's accompaniment of a dance by 13-year-old T. J. Benson was a show-stopping collaboration.

"Is he gliding? Is he quivering? Is he dying? Is he in trouble?," Ma questioned. "I'm trying to kind of read where all the nuances of what he maybe trying to express."

"I just was into the dance," Benson added. "Sometimes, I connected with him like with the music. I just kept on moving with the flow ... the flow and the moves kept flowing."

But, on an October Friday, achieving some "flow" to the judicial process proved especially frustrating for Special Judge Walter Kurtz.

"First I didn't have a lawyer and now I don't have a defendant," he said.

"Let me step out and see if I can find him," said Otis Jackson's legal counsel.

But, once he defiantly set foot in Kurtz's courtroom, stunned observers had to wonder if former Shelby County Clerk Jackson's mental elevator hadn't made it all the way to the top. In a 30-minute appearance that resembled more of a Three Stooges skit than a hearing on his accused misconduct in office case, Jackson's actions were bizarre.

Surprisingly Jackson defied a previously agreed to deal with prosecutors to accept a one year diversion, instead opting for a full-blown trial in February 2013 when, if convicted, could land him years in prison. Jackson almost came close to getting a taste of what that might be like when an increasingly irritated judge demanded he take the mandatory oath.

"I will raise my right hand," Jackson said."

"Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing, but the truth? So, help you, God?," Judge Kurtz said.

"To what?," Jackson questioned.

"The questions that I'm going to ask you, Mr. Jackson! Is there some problem here?," the judge said.

"Yes," Jackson said.

"What's the problem?," the judge asked.

"I don't agree with these proceedings. I shouldn't be here," Jackson said.

'In 30 years and six months, you're the only person I ever run across that refused to be sworn in court, which is kind of odd," Judge Kurtz said.

Odd enough to make the media salivate at the potential for a trial.

But, after four years of preparing for his own defense, accused wife murderer Joe Carrona was ineffectual at trial in trying to get a jury to disregard the avalanche of circumstantial evidence, damning testimony and an explosive audio tape secretly recorded by a former girlfriend.

"He was a control freak. He controlled Tina," Clara Murphy, mother of Tina Caronna said. "He controlled Todd. That was my grandson and that's why I had problems with him. But, it wasn't a matter of not liking Joe. I tolerated him."

Prosecutors painted the insurance agent and financial adviser as a man "living a lie." They established his crumbling financial picture as the motive for murdering Tina Carrona, whose lifeless body was found inside the couple's SUV in October 2008. Though Carrona refused to testify, his voice on a tape recorded by former girlfriend Rebecca Black spoke volumes, adding to Carrona's other persona as a pathetic cheating "two-bit Lothario."

"Everything that I have, I would be willing to give up just to be with you," Joe Caronna said on a secret recording. "I'd go as far to say, I have never loved anybody until I met you."

After an 11-day trial a previously sequestered jury took only 83 minutes to find the man his wife affectionately called "my Joe, Joe" guilty of her murder.

After months of keeping a low profile - make that no profile, actually - 34-year-old California businessman Robert Pera made his first appearance as the new Memphis Grizzlies owner in November. A soft-spoken Pera appeared much more comfortable sitting back as Jason Levein, his chosen CEO for the ownership group, spent most of an hour gushing over those who signed on as partners to make the commitment to taking the NBA franchise to another level.

The star-studded ownership group includes singing superstar Justin Timberlake, who has already been spotted bringing "sexy back" as a front row patron at one of this season's games. It all seemed to work as the Grizz got off to a record-breaking start in carving out an NBA best 14-2 start.

Head Coach Lionel Hollins was named Coach of the Month in back-to-back months.

Partnerships are wonderful when they work. They can be disastrous if they don't. For a Memphis Police Department, whose image has been under fire all year, a "Keystone Kops" episode in which officer Willie Bryant was the wounded victim of "friendly fire" by his OCU partner during the serving of a narcotics warrant wasn't meant for laughs.

Although Bryant survived the shooting, a somber MPD Director Toney Armstrong again found himself trying to make sense out of the senseless.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time our officers get it right," Director Armstrong said. "We get it right. But, occasionally things go very badly as this one did."

Speaking of badly, by year's end it was back to the drawing board for proponents of municipal school districts in Shelby County. The failure of another mediation effort fostered by Federal Judge Samuel Mays preceded Mays finally ruling the legislative law allowing the creation of municipal school districts state-wide was an unconstitutional attempt to apply it only to Shelby County.

"I don't believe Republicans across the state are going to want to do anything that's going to open up more school systems in those other counties in the state," said County Commissioner Mike Ritz.

"Well, I just told a Commissioner, they won the battle, but they're not going to win the war," said Commissioner Chris Thomas. "So, I see it as a short term victory for them. But, certainly this is not over."

Speaking of never-ending stories, new chapters seem to be written everyday by Southaven, Miss., Mayor Greg Davis.

"I have no intention of resigning," he said.

This coming from a man who began the year by checking into a medical facility in January for health issues. Just two months later he was arrested and charged with illegally passing a school bus. While during that same period he was accused of alleged double-dipping for being reimbursed for travel and entertainment expenses.

He was scrutinized for the money he spent on business trips he took to Biloxi, Miss., and Las Vegas. Various citizens' protest groups tried to unsuccessfully get him ousted by the governor. Some members of the Board of Alderman insisted he stop down for the good of the community. He still needs to repay thousands in travel expenses as ordered by the Mississippi State Auditor. In August, his ex-wife accused him of hiding assets and sought to have a judge amend their previous divorce settlement.

In December, he was arrested on state felony charges involving the purchase of a car from the city, filling up his personal car using city gas pumps, cashing a $1,000 city check to pay his personal debts. If convicted on all counts Davis could face a maximum sentence of more than 25 years in prison. Yet for all his hi jinks, just six little words say it all.

"I have no intention of resigning," he said.

Yet, one incident left Memphians grasping for words by year's end.

"As you can imagine this is something that literally ripped out the hearts of this department," Director Armstrong said. "You have no way of knowing the impact this has on the department."

The reverberations of pain and anguish across Memphis following the shooting death of 32-year-old MPD officer and mother of four, Martoiya Lang, made this Christmas one of reflection. Lang and OCU partner, William Vrooman, were attempting to serve a narcotics warrant at a Berclair house. After a flurry of shots Vrooman was shot in the leg and Lang suffered a fatal shot to the upper torso though both were wearing bullet-proof vests.

A sea of her colleagues followed the ambulance to The Med where she was pronounced dead. Lang became the first female police officer to die in the line of duty.

Arrested for the shooting and charged with first degree murder was 21-year-old Treveno Campbell. Coupled with the mass shooting that occurred the same day at a Connecticut elementary school, the tears of a city and a nation merged in a river of regret.

"This is our reality. This is something what we face on a day to day basis," Director Armstrong said.

"Since Friday morning a Memphis Police officer was gunned down leaving four children without their mother," President Barack Obama said in addressing the nation on gun violence. "Violence that we cannot accept as routine."

As we approach a new year many are crying out in unison, that it's time to find ways to alter what's become our reality as a violent society. Maybe one day in the future, we can look back on the year 2012 and say THAT was when positive change began for all of us.

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