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48 Hours Preview: Inside a prosecutor's 4-year pursuit of justice for murder victim Tina Caronna

Joe and Tina Caronna
48 Hours

(CBS) -- Although I have been with the Shelby County District Attorney's Office since January of 1991, it was not until October of 2006 that I became the Chief Prosecutor of the Domestic Violence Prosecution Unit (DVPU). At that time, the unit was made up of just five General Sessions prosecutors. My assignment in the DVPU would prove to be a challenge, not only as an attorney, but to my organizational and supervisory skills, as well. Little did I know what was in store for me - emotionally, professionally, and personally.

It was 2009 when I first I heard about the Tina Caronna murder case. Although Tina had been found dead in October of 2008, the Bartlett Police Department (located in a suburb of Memphis, Tenn.) had been working endlessly to solve the murder. They had chipped away tirelessly at every angle and every lead. The Bartlett Police Department had consulted our office for months leading up to the warrant which was finally issued in March 2009 for Tina's husband, Joe Caronna.

The issuance of the warrant for the arrest of Joe Caronna began a four-year battle that included federal indictments for fraud, which were in part the motive for the murder of Tina Caronna. With prosecutions for Joe Caronna in both state and federal court, it seemed to complicate matters more than simplifying them. Should the state try the case first or should the "feds" try their case first? I assigned another prosecutor as lead to try the case with me. He had spent some time in the white-collar crime unit and I felt that would help in presenting the fraud evidence to the jury.

My co-counsel frequently had the Bartlett detectives in his office and was in constant contact with the U.S. Postal Inspector. We met with the federal prosecutors and federal defense counsel to discuss both cases and possible resolutions short of going to trial. An August 2011 trial date fell through and a January 2012 trial date was set. But, in October 2011, my co-counsel was transferred out of DVPU and a new prosecutor was assigned.

By December 2011, it became apparent that an enormous amount of work needed to be done to obtain the necessary documents and subpoenas, so my new co-counsel and I asked for a continuance. In response, the defense filed a motion to dismiss the case based upon the request for a reset. Then, my new co-counsel was assigned to another case. The April 20, 2012 motion date was quickly approaching and I was frustrated, tired, overwhelmed and disappointed. How was I going to get this done? It was going to be tough case that relied on circumstantial evidence, but not one that could not be won. In what had to be a great deal of trepidation, a young prosecutor in DVPU stepped up and volunteered - Danielle McCollum. She saw that the case had merit and was willing to put in the long hours to get it to court.

In a whirlwind of subpoenas, phone calls, and pleading, Danielle began to gather the information needed to go forward for the April hearing date. Shortly after the pre-trial motions, Tom Henderson, a veteran prosecutor, volunteered to assist with the trial. Amy McCollough, our victim/witness coordinator, began the daunting task of scheduling pre-trial interviews to accommodate, not just the witnesses, but three different attorneys. We began witness interviews months in advance. We also interviewed nearly a hundred people. It was not unusual for us to meet witnesses after hours or on weekends. As the trial date drew closer, we began to whittle down the number of witnesses we would have testify during the trial.

The trial began with jury selection on Monday, October 22, 2012. On Wednesday of this week, the case began with opening statements and then we started to present the state's case. The defense began their proof on October 30 and rested their case the next day which was Halloween. The trial took ten days. Deliberations took less than two hours. The verdict - a resounding guilty. I was overwhelmed with emotion. It literally felt like a ten-ton weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The District Attorney's Office could be proud of a job well-done and I could not have asked for a better trial team.

A guilty verdict, especially as charged, was the most important objective. Her family and friends had finally obtained justice for Tina. There are many cases I have handled, from murders on down. However, there are few that have impacted me like this one did. I would rank this case among the top three trials in which I participated. The support and encouragement from all of Tina's friends and family during the trial was inspirational. I came to know Tina through her friends and family and realized how she was such a presence in everyone's life - positive, encouraging and accepting. She had an impact on all she came into contact with and that was apparent in the loyalty and tenacity that was seen by her friends and her family. I have made life-long friends as a result of these trials.

On Tuesday, February 26, 2012, Joe Caronna pleaded guilty to 4 of the 57 fraud indictments in federal court. Danielle and I went to the court house to watch him enter the plea with Tina's family. It brought the case full circle, icing on the cake, so to speak. Time to close the Caronna file, while keeping the people I met close to heart, and preparing for the next case on my docket.


Karen Cook is the Assistant District Attorney General for Shelby County and was the lead prosecutor in the team that prosecuted the murder of Tina Caronna


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