The women who brought down a governor
One broke the news of a convicted murderer being released and the other gave intel to the FBI. The women behind the downfall of former Gov. Ray Blanton and his administration.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Former Gov. Ray Blanton was investigated by the FBI for multiple reasons during his tenure. One of them was for selling pardons in the clemency for cash scandal, according to Special Agent Richard Knudsen.
Marie Ragghianti, then chair of the state’s pardon and paroles board, was the first to come forward to the FBI with her suspicions that something wasn’t right.
A local county boss for Blanton, William Aubrey Thompson, told her she would be appointed to the board. Just a few days into her role, she got a call from a lawyer in another city that said he got a visit from a man who said he could get his client an early release for the right price.
“He said, ‘Marie, this guy that came into my office and knew everything that’s in that file,’” Ragghianti said, remembering the conversation. “And he said, ‘Even my client hasn’t seen the file, nor has his wife, and they’re there.’ So there’s very few people that know what’s in that file.”
That man was Thompson, also known as Bob Rountree.
Ragghianti suspected Blanton’s legal counsel, Eddie Sisk, and other top aides were profiting from the very system she chaired.
She knew that one of the few people who knew what was in the file was Sisk.
“That was my first inkling that something was wrong because I knew I hadn’t shared the information with anyone,” she said. “I had never discussed it with anyone other than Jack, the mayor and Eddie, the governor’s legal counsel.”
She reviewed some of the cases of inmates who Blanton granted pardons or commutations for.
She started providing a list of names to the FBI: prisoners who were being released that were not approved by the parole board.
“We were hearing rumors, and Marie gave us a little more confidence that something was going on that needed more investigating,” Knudsen said.
In Tennessee, the governor has the right to pardon whoever they want without oversight. The board reviews applications for clemency, but the governor is the only one with the power to grant clemency. That action is final.
“I was 33, but the truth is, at that time, I looked to be about 23. And so I think that that made them think that I was naive and could be counted on to rubber-stamp their activities. You know, I came to realize that as the weeks passed and then I began to think about other controversial cases that had come to the attention of the governor’s office, who then referred them to the parole board and some of these people had been granted clemency.”
Ragghianti continued to give the FBI information without the board knowing it until Sisk fired her on Aug. 3, 1977, without reason.
She sued the state for wrongful termination and won her case.
Former President Bill Clinton appointed Ragghianti to the United States Parole Commission National Appeals Board.
In 1985 the movie, Marie: A True Story, was released, telling her story.
Carol Marin was a reporter who was closely monitoring the governor’s actions for Nashville’s NBC station, WSM.
After she broke the story that Roger Humphreys, a convicted double murderer, was granted work release less than two months into his 20 to 40-year sentence, she got a call she wasn’t expecting.
“The night I have the Roger Humphreys story, all hell broke loose in terms of the Blanton administration calling WSM and saying, ‘The governor wants to come to the studio and do an interview with Carol Marin in the studio live,” Marin said.
Blanton packed the studio with his entire staff, according to Marin.
“I say to Blanton, ‘He’s a convicted double murderer.’ And he said, ‘Well, he hasn’t killed anybody since he got out of prison,’” Marin said, remembering the interview.
He went on to mention that paroles were not up for sale, unprompted.
“We haven’t sold a single one. I don’t know if the previous administrations can say that or not, but we haven’t,” Blanton told Marin.
After that interview, the line between rumor and fact began to blur in the public’s eye, with a petition circulating to keep Humphreys behind bars.
“He came to WSM to lynch me, and ultimately he lynched himself,” Marin said.
After working in Nashville, she moved on in 1978 to an NBC station in Chicago. While there, she got a call from her former news director informing her that Blanton was selling used cars after his term.
The news director offered to fly her back if she could get another interview with Blanton.
“So I called Ray Blanton, and Mrs. Blanton picked up the phone and I said, ’Hello, this is Carol Marin,’” Marin said. “The receiver came slamming down.”
Marin was awarded three George Foster Peabody Awards, two Alfred I. Dupont Columbia Awards and two national Emmys.
She was named the co-director of DePaul University’s Center for Journalism Integrity & Excellence.
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