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Sentencing the Lillelid Murderers

The Lillelid murders, which dominated local news for months in 1997, encored in the spring of '98 with the six accused Kentuckians pleading guilty to felony murder. A four-day sentencing hearing in Greeneville was attended by both regional and international media (it was front-page news in Norway, the native country of Powell resident and slaying victim Vidar Lillelid). The defendants, who ranged in age from 14 to 21 at the time of the murders, expressed varying degrees of remorse on the witness stand and offered contradictory versions of who had actually done the shooting. Judge James E. Beckner sentenced all six to life in prison without parole.

Anthrax Invasion

Knoxville briefly made national news for something other than football in October, when the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health received a letter purporting to contain anthrax spores. Three other abortion clinics nationwide got similar letters. It turned out to be a hoax, followed by another series of fake anthrax letters sent to churches and anti-abortion groups (including Ridgeview Baptist Church in Knoxville).

Inner City Churchglomerate

The sign in front of the faux stone and stucco building on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard still says: Inner City Knoxville Community Investment Corporation. But the building has been vacant since August when the electricity and phone service got cut off for non-payment of the bills.

Its dormancy symbolizes the demise of what had been a flourishing amalgamation of activities as hybrid as the sign. These included the Inner City Church, development of affordable housing, schools for prospective entrepreneurs and homeowners, a radio station, and a lending institution funded by a $1 million contribution from Inner City's biggest benefactor, Reggie White.

What happened to all these institutions and to the money that went into them has become Knoxville's greatest unsolved mystery.

It began unfolding on a wintry night almost three years ago when an arsonist torched the then separate sanctuary of the Inner City Church, clumsily attempting to make it look like a racist deed. In the wake of the fire, several hundred thousand dollars in donations to rebuild the church poured in, principally from the vicinity of Reggie White's football home-away-from-home in Green Bay, Wis. So did insurance money. But rebuilding never got under way, and a cloud of suspicion arose over the three brothers who shared the ministry of the church—David, Jerry, and Ricky Upton. While neither any of them nor anyone else has been charged with setting the fire, that cloud has never been dispelled.

For a time, Inner City Church services filled its temporary home in Austin-East High School's auditorium to overflowing. But a dwindling congregation led to their relocation to the much smaller confines of the now vacated building on MLK. If anyone knows of any services that have been conducted anywhere since that building closed in August, Metro Pulse has been unable to locate them.

Jerry Upton spearheaded Inner City's secular endeavors. But this once charismatic community activist became increasingly reclusive. And what had been a beehive of activity at the Community Investment Corp. began to dissipate as well. The principal lending institution's administrator resigned, and a separate micro-loan program took refuge under the auspices of Knoxville's Community Development Corp—leaving $60,000 in federal grant funds unaccounted for. When KCDC sued to recover the $60,000, a subpoena for Upton was returned to Chancery Court with the notation "Jerry Upton can't be located."

Even Upton's admirers (and there were once a lot of them throughout the community) have come to presume the worst.

Say it ain't so, Jerry.

TVA Gets Some Breaks

After years of looking like an endangered species, TVA started getting some breaks this year.

Congress relented on its previously-expressed resolve to cut off federal funding for TVA's river basin management and other non-power activities. The $50 million appropriated for that was coupled with a $100 million annual bonus in the form of legislation allowing TVA to refinance a big chunk of its debilitating $27 billion debt at a lower interest rate. These actions, along with extra revenues derived from TVA's 1997 rate increase, enabled it to make a start toward an avowed goal of cutting that debt in half over the next decade.

TVA also got a reprieve from electric power deregulation legislation that threatened it with everything from dismemberment to straightjacketing. Congress got so entangled in the complexities of such legislation that it began to look as if the legislators had placed the straightjacket on themselves.

Finally, light began to emerge at the end of what appeared to have become a pitch-black tunnel that TVA burrowed for itself during its nuclear power plant building binge of the 1980s. The Department of Energy showed interest in ponying up the $2 billion needed to complete a nuclear plant in Bellefonte, Ala. into which TVA had sunk $4.6 billion before halting work in 1988 because the run-away price tag got prohibitive. Under the terms of a deal that's still being negotiated, DOE's return on its investment would be a supply of tritium from the plant's reactor that's just what the military craves for the nuclear weapons of the future.

ORNL's Spallation Neutron Thingy

After years of Congressional warfare and inter-agency squabbling, the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge branch (in particular, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory) finally won out in the battle for the Spallation Neutron Source. The $1.3 billion neutron scattering device promises to revolutionize materials research in nearly every conceivable field of endeavor. The first wave of funding is set to hit next year, with more to come.

All of which is well and good, but none of which answers the burning question: Whatintheheck is a spallation?

Haley Heritage Square Unveiled

After years of haggling over the details, Haley Heritage Square—still called, for some reason, Haley Hermitage Square by Vice Mayor Jack Sharp—finally opened, with a bronze statue of author Alex Haley, sculpted by highly regarded sculptor Tina Allen, who was on hand for the dedication. It drew CBS and other representatives of the national press partly because it is, at this writing, the largest statue of an African-American in the world. And, at this writing, most Knoxvillians have never even looked at it.

It's on the north end of Morningside Park, where Summit Hill turns into Dandridge Avenue. Go ahead—and let your kids climb on his book. Tina made him to bear that kind of strain happily.