Three aides to former Tennessee governor Ray Blanton were indicted by a federal grand jury here today on charges they operated a scheme to sell pardons and commutation of jail sentences during Blanton's four years in office.
The grand jury also indicted three other persons, including a Nasville lawyer, a member of the governor's security staff and a Chattanooga Democratic Party Worker for allegedly helping arrange the payoffs.
Blanton, who has been identified as a potential target of the investigation, was not named in the pardons and commutation scheme.
Dick Blay, assistant agent in charge of the Memphis FBI office, would not say whether additional indictments might be returned, saying that is up to the prosecutors. But Blay said, "This is not the end of the investigation."
The grand jury is scheduled to meet again April 5, and Assistant U.S. Atorney Joe Brown refused to rule out the possibility that other persons may be named as participants.
"All I can say is that these six persons have been indicted," Brown said.
Those indicted yesterday, all on two counts of conspiracy and racketeering, are: T. Edward Sisk, of Nashville, Blanton's former legal counsel; Charles Benson, of Nashville, a Sisk aide and the state's chief extradition officer; J.P. (Speedy) Murrell, of Memphis, a former special assistant to Blanton and his liaison with the black community in Memphis; Charles Frederick Taylor, a state hihway patrolman who had been assigned to Blanton's security staff; Dale Quillen, a Nashville attorney; and William Aubrey Thompson, a Chattanooga Democratic committeeman.
Sisk, Benson and Taylor were arrested Dec. 15 on charges of accepting a $10,000 payoff to help arrange the release of a state prison inmate. The grand jury was facing a March 20 deadline on returning indictments under the federal speedy trial act. There is no deadline on future grand jury indictments.
The indictment charges that Sisk and Benson used their positions in the office of the legal counsel to "effect and cause commutations to be signed by the governor."
The grand jury cited 20 instances, beginning as early as the summer of 1975, in which bribes allegedly were sought or received tol help secure the release of prisoners or interfere in extradition proceedings.
The indictment charges that payments generally ranged between $5,000 and $10,000.
Blanton left office Jan. 15, when Republican Lamar Alexander was sworn in as governor three days ahead of schedule in what has been called a "ceremonial impeachment" orchestrated by Democratic legislative leaders.
The Alexander inauguration was speeded up after Blanton signed communtations and pardons for 52 inmates in a late-night marathon two days earlier.
The U.S. attorney reported at the time that he had received information Blanton intended to release still other inmates, including some whose cases were part of the federal investigation.