The former secretary to Judge John Hagler testified Thursday afternoon that when she read a tape made by the judge she "felt a crime had been committed" and believed it related to the 1997 murder of Episcopal priest Marty Davis in Brainerd.
Nona Rogers said Judge Hagler went to church with Mr. Davis, and she said the priest would visit the judge's office and call him on the phone.
Ms. Rogers said, "Because of the male topic, he was the first person who came to mind."
Ms. Rogers said after she first listened to the tape that she accidentally discovered on the back side of dictation from the judge, "I shook all over. I was just numb."
She was one of the witnesses at a hearing in which Chancellor Frank Brown put down an injunction blocking release of the tape to the news media. The judge said he will issue a written opinion later on whether the tape should be released.
Chancellor Brown said Judge Hagler can get a copy of the tape. He asked that the tape be analyzed to determine if anyone had altered it.
Judge Hagler resigned as Circuit Judge after he was told that authorities had the tape. He later filed suit to try to block its release.
Authorities have said Judge Hagler is not a suspect in the murder of Marty Davis, but Chattanooga Police said they want to hold the Hagler tape because if anyone is ever charged in the Davis case the defense may want it for "exculpatory evidence".
Judge Hagler said after the hearing he could not comment at this time. He said he would like to at some point.
Ms. Rogers, who worked for Judge Hagler for 18 years, including three years while he was in private practice, said the judge would routinely place tapes on her desk to be typed. She said this tape had dictation about a case she had already typed on Side A. She said she turned over Side B to see if there was new material there.
She said, "That's when I discovered it. I was so upset. It was so heinous."
Police officers testified earlier that the dialogue from the judge appeared to describe a murder and torture.
Ms. Rogers said, "I didn't know what to do with the tape. I just put it aside."
She said she kept it in a safe area of the office for a while, then later took it home and locked it in a safe there. She said the judge never asked about it.
Ms. Rogers said she became so upset about the tape that she would begin crying and she could not sleep at night. She said, "My nerves were shot."
She said she finally went to a doctor and told him what was bothering her. She said the doctor suggested she go to Chattanooga Police, and the doctor called Sgt. Alan Franks.
Ms. Rogers said she had decided not to take the tape to law enforcement in Bradley County, where the judge's office was located.
Ms. Rogers said she cannot remember when she found the tape. She said it might have been a year or more before she turned it over after getting a call from Sgt. Franks and meeting with him, a "cold case" officer and a TBI agent at the Chattanooga FBI office.
She said she decided to turn over the tape because "I couldn't handle it. I had to give that burden up."
Asked why she did not discuss it to Judge Hagler, she said, "I could not discuss it with the person that may have committed the crime."
She said she told her husband about it, but he did not want to listen to it. She said, "I just told him that it was evil."
She said the only person she let hear the tape was co-worker Gladys Floyd. She said she let her hear a small portion of it and told her "to never let herself be alone with him (Judge Hagler)."
Ms. Rogers said, "I told my family if anything happened to me, look to Judge Hagler first."
She denied she turned the tape over as retribution for being fired by Judge Hagler in November 2005 when her husband, Mike Rogers, ran for Circuit Court clerk in Bradley County. Judge Hagler said he fired her over a conflict of interest. Mr. Rogers lost the election.
Ms. Rogers also denied that she gave the tape or information about it to Sheriff Tim Gobble.
She said she asked Judge Hagler for a letter of termination and a letter of recommendation after her firing. She said he mailed the letter of termination, but never gave her a letter of recommendation.
Ms. Rogers said she went to the doctor who called police prior to her termination. She said her meeting with officers was after the firing - after she got a call from police.
Attorney Jenne, prior to the testimony of Ms. Rogers, asked Chancellor Brown to advise her that anything she said could be used against her in court in the future.
Attorney Jenne argued that the taping of the tape by Ms. Rogers was theft.
Attorney Bud Jackson, representing the Chattanooga Times which intervened in the case, called her "a poor, scared secretary, who is, in effect, a whistleblower."
Ms. Rogers said she had talked with famed Summerville, Ga., attorney Bobby Lee Cook within the past week.
Steve Bebb, district attorney for the 10th District and a former fellow judge with Judge Hagler, said he got a call in early December from a TBI agent asking to meet with him. He said when they met, the agent played him the tape. Mr. Bebb said, "Of course, I recognized Judge Hagler's voice."
He said after listening to the tape, "My thought was 'John's sick'".
He said he decided to get advice from his assistants what to do with the tape. He said all of them listened to the tape.
Mr. Bebb said it was decided to meet with Judge Hagler, and not to mention the word 'resign'.
He said he went with a TBI agent and assistant prosecutor Richard Fisher to the judge's office. He said Judge Hagler acknowledged it was his voice on the tape and said he would resign.
Mr. Bebb said he told him that since he was to resign there would be no need to forward the tape to the Court of the Judiciary that oversees judges in Tennessee. But he said the tape has now made its way to that group.
He said, "John told me this had been a demon that had been bothering him for 20 years."
Mr. Bebb said Judge Hagler said he had not been blackmailed by anyone using the tape. He said the judge told him "he would have been sitting in the DA's office if that had happened."
Mr. Bebb said Judge Hagler "thanked me for the way we handled it. We hugged there in that room" before he left.
The witness said he at first asked for an investigation of who had leaked information about the case to the Chattanooga Times. He said he woke up at 3 a.m. the next morning and began making a list of possible names of those who had leaked it.
He said he decided the probe was "futile" and he called off his request for it the next day.
Mr. Bebb said Judge Hagler called him later and asked for a meeting at his house on a Saturday. He said the judge later called and said he could not come, and he also did not show up the following Monday at his office though he waited there until 6 p.m.
Attorney Jenne questioned Mr. Bebb about any link between Judge Hagler ruling against Sheriff Gobble in a lawsuit he brought against the county for allegedly not providing adequate funds for his office.
Attorney Jenne asked if he had information about J. Michael Leonard, communications director for the sheriff's office, putting information about the tape on a website. Mr. Bebb said he had not seen the website.
Mr. Fisher, who was the 10th District DA from 1972-1982 and who said he hired Judge Hagler away from the state attorney general's office to serve as a prosecutor for him, also told of the meeting with the judge about the tape.
Under questioning from attorney Jenne, Mr. Fisher denied he was upset with Judge Hagler for ruling against him in a case he filed involving the airport in Bradley County.
Attorney Jenne also asked him how he could work as a private attorney and also in the DA's office. That question was ruled irrelevant.
Chattanooga Police Chief Freeman Cooper said the city had been prepared to release the tape prior to the filing of the Hagler lawsuit.
He said, "We had determined that releasing it to the media was not going to jeopardize our cold case as long as we retained the original copy."
Attorney Jenne said the tape and all copies should be returned to Judge Hagler.
Nona Rogers (in red coat) leaves courtroom