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Chestnut Guilty of Murder & Animal Cruelty

A Macon County jury deliberated almost two and a half hours last Thursday, June 8, before finding 57-year-old Joseph Eugene Chestnut, Jr., of Red Boiling Springs, guilty of first degree murder, intentional & premeditated, and four counts of aggravated animal cruelty.

Mr. Chestnut was convicted of killing his wife, 42-year-old Tracey Chestnut, and four family dogs, on Tuesday, August 10, 2021, on McClure Street in Red Boiling Springs, after an investigation by TBI special agents identified him as the individual responsible.

According to the evidence, Joseph Chestnut killed Tracey Chestnut before lunch on August 10, and left the house around 1 p.m. that afternoon. He was tracked to Alabama that night after he fled Tennessee, and the last contact in Alabama was at 3 a.m. on August 11th. He drove all day and was taken into custody 17 hours later by the border patrol in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The TBI flew to New Mexico on August 12th and the Macon County Sheriff’s Department drove down on August 14 and transported Chestnut back to the Macon County Jail, where he was held without bond.  Joseph Chestnut was indicted by the Macon County Grand Jury on August 19th and charged with one count of First Degree Murder and four counts of Aggravated Cruelty to Animals.

State prosecutors were District Attorney General Jason Lawson and Assistant District Attorney Bill Calla.

After speaking with General Lawson, he provided a summary of the facts from the trial:

A jury was selected on Monday morning, June 5, and after opening statements that afternoon, the state called their first witness to the stand.

The only witness to testify on Monday afternoon, was Sheriff Joseph Wilburn, who was working for the Red Boiling Springs Police Department at the time of this incident, and he was the first officer to respond, after the body was found. Wilburn testified that he secured the scene and requested TBI assistance. 

Several more witnesses took the stand during the two and a half days of testimony, including Amy Sanders, the niece who found Tracey Chestnut’s body. Ms. Sanders testified that Tracey’s car was missing that day, along with the defendant. She also stated that she tried to call the defendant and he didn’t answer.

TBI Special Agent Andrew Graves testified that he processed the crime scene and collected six shell casings, two next to Mrs. Chestnut and a shell casing next to each dog. He stated that Mrs. Chestnut appeared to be sleeping at the time she was shot in the recliner in her room. He also stated that Mrs. Chestnut was shot twice in the head, and one of those was a close range gunshot wound. 

Local veterinarian, Dr. Michael Towns, testified that he examined all four dogs and the cause of death was a gunshot wound to each of their heads.

The state called John Cook, of Red Boiling Springs, who testified that on August 10, he saw the defendant alone with the victim’s car, which was missing from the crime scene, prior to the defendant leaving for New Mexico.

TBI Special Agent Andrew Vallee, telecommunications specialist, testified that he tracked Joseph Chestnut’s cell phone to Prattville, Alabama, before the phone went off. He also stated that an automatic license plate reader picked up the car driving through Texas.

Four agents from the US Border Patrol each testified that they were stationed at the border checkpoint in Las Cruces, New Mexico, 30 minutes from the US-Mexico border. They confirmed that the suspect, Joseph Chestnut, came to the border checkpoint on August 11, 2021. Upon verification of the tag on the vehicle, the suspect was taken into custody. They made the decision to collect the defendant’s clothing and shoes as evidence and they recovered a .22 Berretta pistol from the car.”

TBI Special Agent Josh Anderson, the lead investigator, flew to New Mexico and picked up the evidence from the Las Cruces border checkpoint station and brought it back to Tennessee. 

The medical examiner, Dr. Miguel Laboy, who performed the autopsy, testified there was no other reason that Mrs. Tracey Chestnut died, other than the two gunshots wounds to the head. The cause of her death was a homicide.

The last witness the state called was TBI Special Agent Ladd Kuykendall, who is an expert in ballistics and firearm examination. Agent Kuykendall testified that the six shell casings found at the crime scene were fired from the weapon, a .22 Beretta pistol, that was collected by the US Border Patrol.

At that point the state rested it’s case.

The defense did not put on any proof and the defendant did not testify. A motive was never revealed.

Closing arguments began at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday morning, June 8, 2023, and Assistant District Attorney Bill Calla argued that the state had met its burden and proved its’ case.

Attorney for the defense, Assistant Public Defender Chris Dotson, argued that the TBI should have taken additional steps or performed additional testing on the evidence to eliminate any possibility that another person committed the crime.

General Lawson argued that there had been no evidence of involvement by another person, that the tests performed were sufficient based on the investigation, and that the state had met its burden of proving the defendant guilty.

The case went to the jury and they returned with a verdict at 1:00 p.m. They found Chestnut guilty on all counts.

Upon Joseph Chestnut’s conviction, Judge Kane sentenced him to life. Another sentencing hearing will be held on July 31, to sentence Chestnut for the four convictions of aggravated animal cruelty, which carry 1 to 2 years on each count. At 57-years-old, Chestnut will never get a parole hearing.

General Lawson closed by stating, “We are thankful to the Macon County jury for providing justice for Tracey Chestnut. This was a long week of proof, but the jury paid close attention to all the evidence. Thank you to the TBI, the Macon County Sheriffs Department, and the Red Boiling Springs Police Department for their hard work in making justice possible.”