in her own words

"In my own words" by Tarina

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story.

I’ve learned during this journey that there two versions of the truth. There is the "states truth", and then there is the actual truth. The real truth must be told. My children and grandson need me and they deserve true justice, as do the families of the victims in this case.


The events on October 26th 2007 forever changed my life, and the lives of my children. This all has been very detrimental to each of us! I need to express to you that I am truly innocent of these crimes, and need your support in being able to get "JUSTICE”. I’ve made a lot of mistakes that I most definitely am not proud of. However I'm a very giving, honest, and loving person. I opened my heart, and home to people who had nowhere to go, nobody to turn to, no food to eat, nor a place to lay their head. I would never have ,in a million years, thought those acts of kindness would lead me, and my children down is long, dark, hard road.

I was a fulltime momma. I had always raised, provided for, and took care of my children by myself. They are my absolute world!!!!! I became a mother at the tender age of 15 years old. I had no idea how to be a mother, all I knew was I wanted to be the best momma I could be. My children were 16, 14,8 years old, and my youngest child was just 4 days old, the day our lives were ripped apart and forever changed.

On 23rd Sept 2008 I had just given birth to my youngest child. He was born premature and was in the neonatal intensive care unit. The morning of the 27th I went to the elevators and when I pressed the button a police officer, called me by name and told me I couldn't go anywhere. I said “excuse me!  I’m going to feed my baby" he said "no you’re not, you are under arrest for murder!”  I thought it was a joke and I even asked where the hidden camera was. I told myself this a horrible mistake that would be easily rectified. I had no idea what this was about, much less that the charges stemmed from the allegations made by a vulnerable young girl that I had been good to.  However under the influence of a more seasoned criminal, she made the conscious decision to follow through with the deceptive proffered statement, to her attorney and the D.A. .to secure a deal in exchange for the 2 life sentences. She was given a 20 year sentence @ 100%(which she will serve it @ 85%,that will be 17years)and 30 years @ 30% (which she will serve 9 years, then go up for parole) she will do approximately 26 years, then have the opportunity to make parole and possibly be released. That is truly a deal she lied to get, that is far less time than the 102 years she should have gotten. She will one day walk free, instead succumbing to her death in prison. I had never stayed overnight in jail. I was completely and utterly distraught, confused, and full of deep emotional, physical, and metal pain. My heart was completely broken, crushed, and longing for my children. hen I got off the bus at the jail, I was put through a very degrading process. I had to remove and place in a plastic bag, my only possessions that were from my life as I knew it. I'll never forget the devastation I felt when the door locked behind me, in the first of what would be many cells I would be housed in during this journey. I had never cried so hard in my life. Cries that came from the depths of my soul. I was charged with something that I couldn't nor wouldn't, have done, or even be apart of. I waited each day to hear them unlock my cell, and tell me “Simmons pack up you're being released, we realized there was a mistake “I told myself “well they didn't come today, they'll do it tomorrow surely".


I'm not sure how many days, weeks, months and even years I told myself that. During this time I truly went to a place mentally, that I didn't know the mind could go. I had a severe psychotic break. The desolation I was experiencing was unlike any I had ever been through. I couldn't even take care of my most basic daily needs. I couldn't read or write (which is something I've always excelled in). I couldn't hold a conversation, I had no sense of reality, I rocked back and fourth, and had a deep catatonic stare. I didn't understand anything except my children needed me, and I was INNOCENT.

On seeing the psychiatrist I was misdiagnosed as having bipolar. That particular mental disorder causes severe mood swings that have extreme highs and lows. In no way was I having mood swings or any highs commonly known as mania. However I was put on large doses of lithium. In reality through severe distress I had suffered a mental breakdown was severely depressed.

So I was heading to trial depressed, confused and dosed up on lithium.  My court appointed attorney David Collins, who was utterly incompetent and who has since been disbarred from practicing law. He didn’t supply  me with a copy of my motion of discovery till after I had been in TDOC custody for 6 months. He lied under oath in court and said he had went over it with me at the jail, that never took place! His secretary came and we had glass between us and she flipped quickly through page after age stating "that doesn't apply to you" over and over, she never showed me one piece of paper. Once she reached the end she closed it and said "like Ravaughn Harris I think you will beat this case, they don't have anything really on you, I think a jury will find you not guilty" this means that my 14th amendment constitutional right of due process was violated, by never giving me the opportunity to ever tell me or even let me have access to the proffered statement Crystal Rutherford did against me, nor to give me a chance to effectively build a law I was supposed to have a copy of my discovery for my own personal use, to be able to see the key strength of the states case. Not just a unqualified legal secretary's opinion on what she thought was and wasn't pertinent to me. David Collins came to the jail shortly after the secretary had come, just days later. He said “the D.A. has informed me that a statement has been given that you were involved in the good Samaritan murder case, and she said “she is offering you a plea deal for 35 years @100%,for the Bellacino case, if you don't take it ,they are going to charge you in this second case, and are going to seek the death penalty. I didn't understand and was scared, and he was being aggressive. I told him "I didn't do anything “. He said "IF YOU DON'T TAKE THIS FUCKING PLEA YOU ARE GONNA DIE ON DEATHROW".  He was yelling at me. I felt intimidated by him. I only knew I had to live for my children. I was scared of being put to death for senseless murders I had nothing to do with. He told me it looked real bad, and I would never win at trial. I was super confused. He didn't explain anything to me about this plea. I naively thought because he was an experienced attorney, that he naturally would have my best interest at heart. That he was pressing me hard because he knew the law, and system, and I didn’t. I thought he was supposed to protect me and with that belief I trusted him.

Years later I realized that the state threatened me and used the second case as a scare tactic to secure a conviction in the Bellacino case. If they had had anything concrete on me, the state would never had agreed to not prosecute me for my alleged involvement in an additional murder case, by no means, that isn't legally ethical on the States part at all. This is plainly coercion on the D.A.'s part. Collins never made me aware I would never be eligible for parole, and I would serve 29.9 years day for day before I could be released. He led me to think I would be out in just a couple years. I wasn't able to fight for myself or participate in strategically building a solid legal defence due to the confusion and irrational understanding I was experiencing during this time. He never made it clear that I would be giving up all my rights by accepting this horrible plea.

There were further discrepancies  that I have since become aware of.  In the plea agreement they gave me 10 years outside the range for second degree murder, which is 15-25 years. they plead me as a range 2 when in fact I am a range 1 offender. Due to never having had a felony conviction. This is how they were able to give me 10 years outside the actual range for second degree murder. Collins never explained any of that ever! Once I was classified to MLCC ,in Memphis. Shortly after arriving there, I was able to see a real, knowledgeable, and thorough psychiatrist. The doctor said. I’m in no way bipolar and he took me off the lithium immediately. He diagnosed me with major depression and put me on a antidepressant. With in a couple months my mind started to slowly clear up. Though I was still having problems remembering a lot of things. Once the fog started to lift more, someone explained to me everything about the plea agreement and all it entailed. I was truly perplexed. I immediately starting looking and seeking legal help diligently, though I was still struggling on some levels. I went to the law library and got a law clerk to assist me. Over a course of time, I had a few different clerks that filed several things and time after time they were denied. So finally I started going to the law library myself, and staring studying and reading through everything I could to get a understanding of law and legal proceedings and so fourth. I eventually taught myself how to navigate west law and began doing case law research. After many, many hours of studying and fighting for access to the law library. I clearly seen all the errors and plain mistakes that seemed to be intentional, by my ineffective assistance of counsel, prosecutional misconduct, among many other errors. David Collins was battling throat cancer while he was representing me. This disease can be very aggressive, and can be fatal. The fact that he was dealing with these issues could have clouded his mental abilities, not to mention he was doing chemotherapy, and radiation treatments and taking narcotics for the pain. This had to have a negative impact on his competency in properly representing me. Maybe his aggression when he was yelling at me about if I didn't sign the plea, then I was going to die on fucking death row, could have been brought on by irritation from the narcotics. Which proves he was incompetent while representing me in the plea negotiations, the way he handled the situation about me signing that plea, and the sentencing being aggressive with me while under the influence of drugs. There is thousands of cases across is great country, where cases are over turned and receive new trials or charges dropped, due to judges, prosecutors, and criminal defence attorneys being under the influence of some type of narcotic/ may say he was taking medication prescribed by a physician. The fact still remains that anything that is opium based such as painkillers will alter ones thinking and judgement it effects their ability to have a rational understanding, much less properly representing someone in serious legal matters and proceedings and where ones life is at the Merriam Webster dictionary under the definitions of narcotics and dull it reads: “narcotics: a drug (as opium) that dulls the senses, relieves pain, and induces sleep.)dull:(1) mentally slow,(2) slow in perception or sensibility(3)listless(4)slow inaction/sluggish. So it is evident that this more likely than not played a part in the incompetency of David Collins.


It is plain to see that with all these factors combined, that I have presented to you, there is depth to the injustices I have endured. Had I had the opportunity, support and right mental mind set to fight for myself and prove my innocence, I would have never accepted this plea.  Not even with the coercion and threat of the death penalty from the D.A. Under no circumstances, even though it was a “best interest” plea, would I have taken it before 12 of my peers. I don't believe had it proceeded to trial with my mental clarity, and competent counsel, that more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted me. I am now at W.T.R.C. in West Tennessee. I'm focused and determined to keep fighting for vindication. I continue to diligently pursue justice. Over the last 10 years I've grown in many areas. Being behind these walls without my children, grandson, family and friends is very difficult. Ten years of love, support, attention from me, hugs and kisses, guidance, advice, holidays, birthdays, sporting events and attending my 2 sons high school graduations, laughter, and so much more has been taken from my children and me that can never be given back. Time that has passed can't be replaced. My true hope is I can be set free to never miss one more thing in the lives of my children, grandchildren, family and friends. I choose to be positive and remain strong through this all. I have a true passion to help everyone to know their worthy of Gods most amazing love. That we are valuable in His eyes, no matter where we come from or what we have done. We are loved by God beyond measure.

 I pray you will give me your support.  I need maximum exposure to achieve all that I need to do in order to maintain day to day inside here, and be able to pay the high cost in hiring a respectable attorney. I need my chance in court to reverse this injustice.  Please fight alongside me. Help me to return home where I long to be every minute of be the best momma, grandmomma, daughter,sister ,friend, and citizen. May God bless you!!!!!!:-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-)


A Channel 4 I- Team

Tarina Simmons answered questions from Channel 4's chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley in an exclusive interview.

The execution-style murder of two Bellacino employees, Chris Caris and Josh Cole, still angers people.

The two promising young men were killed on Oct. 26, 2007, while they were cooperating with robbers.

Prosecutors said the mastermind of the robberies was Tarina Simmons

But Simmons said she is innocent and is a caring mother.

"I'm not guilty of any of these crimes," Simmons said.

But police said she's a drug-dealing criminal mastermind, who opened her home to not one, but two different people, at two different times, who later would be convicted in two different murders.

"You know that looks pretty questionable," said Finley.

"I can't help how it looks. That's the reason I'm sitting here is the way it looks," Simmons said.

The main reasons Simmons is in prison is because of her association with Jason Bobo, who is serving prison time for the murders.

Simmons said she allowed Bobo to live with her, her ex-fiance and her children, until he could get back on his feet.

Simmons said that living arrangement changed on Oct. 26, 2007, when Bobo, Crystle Rutherford and Ravaughn Harris came to her home.

"It was Bobo who said, 'We just robbed a place we used to work at.' He said, 'I killed two people,'" Simmons said.

And in court records, prosecutors stated the reason the three came to Simmons' home is because she masterminded the robbery and received a share of the stolen money.

Simmons disputes both claims, stating that she had no idea Bobo and Rutherford were going to rob the restaurant.

Simmons said she immediately ordered them to leave her house when she found out about the robbery and the murders.

But she did not call police.

"You knew about these murders. You knew the truth. But you didn't say anything. Why?" Finley asked.

"I guess, Jeremy, I was in such shock, so scared, and at one point, I even questioned, if I did say something, is there a possibility that this might happen to me?" Simmons said.

Police later searched Simmons' backyard.

"Police later found the backpack, clothes, and the murder weapon in your backyard," Finley said.

"In my backyard, actually, it was off my property line, in a wooded area, but yes, that's where it was found," Simmons said.

"That raises some serious questions," Finley said.

"I had no idea that's where it was put the night it was put there," Simmons said.

Simmons also pleaded guilty to second degree murder.

"If you're innocent, why would you plead guilty?" Finley asked.

"Because I was pushed and intimidated, not only by my attorney, the district attorney also threatened me with an additional case," Simmons said.

Simmons admitted to the Channel 4 I-Team that additional case was the murder that came to be known in Nashville's media as the Good Samaritan murder.

Just a few months after she let Bobo stay in her home, Simmons said she let her friend Stephanie Hudson and Hudson's boyfriend Robert Williams live with her.

During that time, Williams stabbed and killed Jeffrey McEwen when McEwen tried to stop him from stealing a woman's purse.

Williams pleaded guilty to the crime after he was arrested, and Hudson pleaded guilty to facilitation of felony murder.

Simmons was never charged in the crime, and said she had no idea the second housemate who had lived with her for six months was prepared to kill.

She said the district attorney threatened to charge her in the Good Samaritan case, if she didn't plead guilty to second-degree murder in the Bellacino case.

"You invite these people into your house, and they are later convicted of murder," Finley said.

"Right," Simmons said.

"And you expect people to believe this is all out of the goodness of your heart?" Finley asked.

"There's nothing that I can say, other than that's the truth," Simmons said.

Simmons said Crystle Rutherford, one of the two people convicted of murder in the Bellacino case, made a deal with the district attorney and lied, changing her story to implicate Simmons as the mastermind.

And the attorney representing the only person charged and found not guilty in the Bellacino case, Ravaughn Harris, told the Channel 4 I-Team that Rutherford also made a deal with the district attorney and lied about Harris as well.

Simmons said Rutherford's lies, and the fact that she didn't need the money from either robberies, is proof of her innocence.

That, and the fact that she's a mother.

"Do you know the pain these murders have caused these families?" Finley asked.

"I can only, oh my Jesus, only imagine, Jeremy. I'm a mother, and I love my kids more than anything on this earth," Simmons said.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said because Simmons is appealing her case, they couldn't comment about her claims.

The Channel 4 I-Team did write letters to both Jason Bobo and Crystle Rutherford to try and verify Simmons' claims, but the state prison system wouldn't allow them to interview, and neither wrote back.

Copyright 2011 WSMV. All rights reserved.