Child rape survivor awaits governor’s parole decision for murder of stepfather-husband

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SMYRNA, Tenn. (WKRN) — Mindy Dodd was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her stepfather and late husband in Smyrna 20 years ago, but advocacy groups are asking Governor Bill Lee to give her a second chance at life.

“Mindy Dodd is a survivor of child rape, who is currently serving a life sentence in Tennessee for the murder of her stepfather-husband,” said Heather Meshell, an attorney advocate with the Love and Justice Project in Nashville advocating for Dodd’s release from prison.

Dodd was just eight years old when she says her stepfather, Sherman Dodd, began having sexual intercourse with her. It continued for 10 years and when she got pregnant at 18, he divorced her mother and married her.

“They had a second child. She lived a life of continued abuse, and forced coercion, where her husband-stepfather controlled her every move and threatened her life and her family’s,” Meshell explained.

In December 1999, Sherman Dodd’s nephew, James Smallwood, who had also been sexually abused by his uncle, shot and killed him near their home in Smyrna. Smallwood told police it was his and Mindy Dodd’s idea and she provided the gun.

Meshell said Dodd knew Smallwood wanted to kill her husband, but said she didn’t think he was serious. Both she and Smallwood were sentenced to life in prison.

“Mindy maintains her innocence, she does express remorse that she didn’t intervene and stop the nephew from killing her stepfather-husband,” Meshell exclaimed.

Jim Todd has worked both as a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney in Tennessee for two decades. News 2 asked him to weigh in on the case.

“The problem that the criminal justice system has is that almost everybody in it comes from a terrible environment, and has more than likely some sort of residual effect from it, which causes them or puts them in a situation to commit these crimes,” Todd explained. “You know, unfortunately, the system’s not adequately designed to take into consideration all of those.”

On January 30, 2020, the Tennessee Board of Parole gave a unanimous recommendation to Governor Bill Lee to grant Dodd immediate parole eligibility. However, more than a year later and 20 years into her sentence, the recommendation still sits on his desk.

Lee’s office told News 2 in a statement: “At this time, the Governor is reviewing the case through the established process.”

This was just days before Lee declared April Second Chance Awareness Month as part of his criminal justice reform.

“Her case is a perfect… intersection of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and Second Chance Month,” Meshell said. “We’re talking about a child rights survivor who began being raped at the age of eight years old and it’s not really a second chance, we’re asking the governor to give her the first chance of a life free from her abuser, from her rapist, from her abuser, she never really had the first chance.”

The Love and Justice Project started a petition for Governor Bill Lee to grant Dodd parole.

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