Knoxville News-Sentinel, July 27, 2003
By JAMIE SATTERFIELD
A Morgan County man has failed to convince an appellate court his right to religious freedom was violated in a trial in which he claimed to be one of seven sons of God.
Michael Sammie Brown, convicted of sending a threatening letter to a Morgan County chancellor, contended in an appeal that prosecutors had no right to talk about his religious beliefs when arguing the case in front of a jury.
In a ruling released this week, the state Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed.
Since Brown “considers himself the son of God,” his religious beliefs were key to the case and “the central theme of his defense,” the appellate opinion stated.
“There is no indication that the defendant’s religious beliefs were ever compromised or ridiculed,” the opinion stated. “We conclude it would be practically impossible not to make reference to (Brown’s) messianic beliefs in a closing argument.”
Brown’s case began in 1999 when, after years of wrangling with relatives over his mother’s estate, Brown sent a letter to Morgan County Chancellor Frank Williams.
In the letter, Brown indicted God has seven sons of which he is one. He listed Jesus as his brother and his late mother, Magrada Brown, as the “wife of the Almighty God Jehovah.”
Brown demanded in the letter that a list of people, including Williams, the state Attorney General and Gov. Don Sundquist, appear in Morgan County Chancery Court at precisely 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 22, 1999.
“If anyone is not there, they (will) die at 9:31 a.m. no matter who they are,” the letter stated. “No one can be saved if they are not in that courtroom.”
He ended the letter with the salutation: “Say Amen. Be there.”
Brown was charged with a rarely-cited felony offense called retaliation for past action. A jury convicted him two years later, and he was sentenced to a year on probation.
Brown represented himself at thetrial. According to the appellate court opinion, Brown’s defense centered around his insistence that he was the son of God and, as such, a prophet.
The letter, Brown argued, was not a threat to kill Williams or anyone else but instead a warning of the need for “divine salvation” for the half-dozen or so people named in the document.