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A 1979 cold case murder was a contract killing with ties to Tennessee governor’s office, DA says

Authorities in Tennessee say they’ve solved the 42-year-old murder of a Chattanooga businessman, calling the cold case a “contract murder” with ties to former Tennessee Gov. Ray Blanton’s administration.

Samuel Pettyjohn was shot four times and killed on February 1, 1979, in what investigators described as “an execution-style hit,” according to a news release from the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston said that at the time of his death, Pettyjohn was part of a federal probe into a pardon and parole scheme involving Blanton.

Pinkston said the governor’s office arranged for inmates to be released early from their sentences in exchange for cash.

Pettyjohn was involved in the operation, Pinkston said, but he cooperated with the FBI on a number of occasions and testified that Blanton was aware of the scheme.

Pinkston said that through their investigative work, they identified Pettyjohn’s killer as William Edward Alley, a “notorious bank robber” who died in federal custody in 2005.

CNN was not able to reach Alley’s family members for comment.

According to Pinkston, Alley was hired to kill Pettyjohn and a portion of the contract was paid for by a third party on behalf of the former governor’s office.

“There is no question this was a contract murder,” Pinkston said.

On Tuesday, a Hamilton County grand jury voted that if Alley was still alive there was enough evidence to indict him on first-degree premeditated murder in Pettyjohn’s death.

“This confirmation by the grand jury of the investigative findings means the cold case murder of Pettyjohn is officially closed,” Pinkston said. “Our Cold Case Unit put in countless hours to solve this unusual case. Hopefully, it will bring some closure and peace to Pettyjohn’s surviving family members.”

Blanton served as governor from 1975 to 1979 and was replaced by Gov. Lamar Alexander, who took office three days early because of the pardons and parole scandal, according to the National Governors Association.

He died in 1996 and CNN was unable to reach his family members for comment on the case.

Blanton was never indicted in the pardons and parole scheme, according to the news release, but members of his administration were, along with William Aubrey Thompson, a local county Democratic boss for Blanton’s election campaign, who was later convicted.

Blanton was later convicted on charges of mail fraud and conspiracy to sell liquor licenses and served 22 months in prison, according to the National Governors Association.

Ties to Jimmy Hoffa

According to case details in a news release from the DA, Pettyjohn was a businessman and had owned several stores and nightclubs in the Chattanooga area. He maintained strong ties with the Teamsters union and was a personal friend of James Riddle Hoffa Sr., also known as Jimmy Hoffa, according to the news release.

At the time of his murder, Pettyjohn had cash and jewelry on him that was valued at $100,000. The items were not taken from the Beverage Center business, which Pettyjohn owned, where he was shot to death. When police arrived, they found an attaché case that Pettyjohn owned that contained a recording device with several recordings inside.

“That attaché case, the recording device and the recordings were removed from the crime scene and have never been located,” the news release said. “Some witnesses indicate that there were at least 40-50 total recordings.”

Two witnesses in the parking lot of the Beverage Center at the time of the shooting described the suspect to police “as a heavy-set African American male with a beard and glasses.” The suspect was wearing a trench coat, according to the release, and fired one to two shots into the air before fleeing the scene.

Police arrested two suspects in 1982 and charged them with Pettyjohn’s murder, but those charges were dismissed because both men had alibis.

The case remained unsolved and in 2015 when the cold case unit began a review and investigation of all events surrounding the homicide of Pettyjohn, according to the news release.

During the investigation, officials interviewed several cooperating individuals who said Alley admitted being paid between $25,000 and $50,000 for murdering Pettyjohn, the release said.

They said Alley, who was White, wore face paint, a false beard and glasses to hide his identity, according to the release.

“Pettyjohn knew too much about illegal activities and his cooperation with federal authorities placed other individuals’ freedom, including that of Governor Ray Blanton, at severe risk,” the news release said.

One of Pettyjohn’s sons, Saadiq, attended the district attorney’s news conference with his wife, sister and two daughters, and spoke on behalf of his 92-year-old mother and the entire family, according to the news release.

“It is a curse and a blessing to grow up in a family that is connected to crime,” said Saadiq Pettyjohn in the news release. “When that person dies, you can either go that route, or you can go a different route, and all of us chose to go a better route with education and try to do better in our lives.”

He also thanked Pinkston and everyone involved in solving his father’s murder.

CNN Newsource

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