Prior misconduct cannot be used in fatal Chattanooga bus crash trial

CHATTANOOGA, TN (WMC) - A week before the Chattanooga bus crash trial begins, a judge ruled some of the evidence the prosecution hoped to use against the bus driver can't be used.

Johnthony Walker faces 34 criminal charges, including six counts of vehicular homicide related to a bus crash in Chattanooga in November 2016.

Prosecutors wanted to use evidence suggesting Walker previously cussed at students, sped out of the school parking lot, and inappropriately hit the brakes while driving.

The judge ruled that prior conduct was not relevant to the crimes Walker is currently facing.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports the judge said if prosecutors believe specific testimony about Walker's previous driving is relevant, they can ask for an out of jury hearing during the trial.

"Just because he may have done it on one day doesn't mean he did it on another," Memphis criminal defense attorney Joseph Ozment said.

Ozment said it's not surprising a Chattanooga judge is limiting what prosecutors can use against Walker.

Monday, that judge ordered autopsy photos, Walker's text messages and his prior conduct are all out.

"It happens in every trial you have," Ozment said.

The ruling comes after claims that Walker cursed at students and drove erratically on multiple occasions.

A prior principal at the elementary school testified she forwarded complaints to the county's transportation director and even rode the bus once to get a better idea of what was happening on the bus.

Prosecutors intended to use that information to prove a pattern of recklessness, but Ozment said it could taint the jury, preventing a fair trial.

"A judge has to be very careful about letting these in because you don't want a jury making a decision based upon something that happened in the past as opposed to the event that's on trial at the time," Ozment said.

The November 2016 crash killed six elementary students and injured several others. Prosecutors allege Walker took a phone call at the time of the crash.

Walker is out on bond and did not have to attend the hearing Monday.

Jury selection will be Friday in Clarksville, Tennessee, near Nashville. Those jurors will be sequestered to Chattanooga for the trial that starts next Tuesday.

Copyright 2018 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.