Ex-Tennessee governor linked to unsolved 1979 murder of federal witness


A former Tennessee governor has been linked to a 1979 hit on a friend of Jimmy Hoffa, investigators have concluded.

Cold case investigators say that Ray Blanton’s administration had paid a known bank robber to kill Samuel Pettyjohn, because he was cooperating with FBI agents in a corruption investigation.

The killing took place as federal prosecutors were investigating Mr Blanton’s office over a “cash-for-clemency” scandal.

Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston said on Wednesday that no charges will be brought as all of the major players are now dead and they have finally closed the 42-year-old case.

Mr Pettyjohn was gunned down by a contract killer in blackface, wearing a wig and fake beard, inside the Beverage Mart he owned, and had cash and jewellery worth $100,000 on him when he died.

“Essentially, Mr Pettyjohn cooperated with authorities and knew too much about what was going on locally, as well as the state level, and individuals didn’t like that and so individuals hired someone to murder him,” said Mr Pinkston.

“Here we are some 42 years later.”

He was asked how he could be sure that Mr Blanton’s administration paid for the killing.

“I’m very sure, I’m proof positive,” he replied.

Mr Blanton, a Democrat, was never indicted in the corruption investigation, but three members of his administration were.

Prosecutors, who reopened the murder investigation in 2015, say that the hitman was a known bank robber, Ed Alley, and that he was paid between $25,000 and $50,000 on behalf of the Blanton administration to carry out the killing.

Alley himself died in federal prison in 2005.

“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,” a grand jury concluded.

And the grand jury stated that if he was still alive Alley would be charged with first-degree premeditated murder of Pettyjohn.

Mr Blanton sparked controversy as he pardoned and commuted prison sentences for more than 50 state inmates in the final days of his administration.

The situation got so bad that his fellow Democrats worked with his Republican successor, Lamar Alexander,  to move up his inauguration by three days.

Mr Blanton, who died in 1996, was never charged but in 1981 was convicted of selling a liquor licence to a friend for $23,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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