STEWART COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — A now-formerly convicted killer who was serving a life sentence for shooting his school bus driver, Joyce Gregory, in Stewart County has been released from prison 18 years after a jury found him guilty of murder.
According to court records, Jason Clinard was 14 years old when he took a gun from his home and shot and killed Gregory on March 2, 2005, for getting him in trouble for having tobacco.
After serving 18 years of his 51-year minimum sentence handed down in adult court, a federal judge ruled Clinard should have only served a little more than four years in a juvenile detention center.
While Chief United States District Judge Waverly Crenshaw Jr. said there was no question Clinard killed Gregory, he ruled last month that Clinard’s 2008 conviction and sentence of first-degree murder be vacated and set aside due to evidence the boy was “capable of being successfully treated and rehabilitated at or before the more than four years he was eligible to serve in juvenile detention.”
The judge cited testimony from Clinard’s teachers and his football coach who claimed the boy had a good character and was helpful. He also included a report from a doctor who examined Clinard and found the boy had major depressive disorder which “most likely compromised his judgment and reasoning skills, and put him at an increased risk for inappropriate behavior, such as acting on his angry impulses,” according to the ruling.
In addition, the doctor testified “with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that [Clinard] could probably be rehabilitated in the course of a couple of years if he received these services that are available,” based on his sessions with the boy in 2005, according to court records, referring to an “adolescent residential treatment program where he could receive individual and group therapy, family counseling, anger management training, and psychiatric monitoring of his medication.”
The judge said this information wasn’t presented before Clinard’s case was transferred to adult court due to his poor legal representation.
However, Dan Alsobrooks, a retired Stewart County District Attorney, told News 2 Clinard needed to be tried as an adult, and said he found the federal judge’s ruling “troubling.”
“This was a straightforward, cold-blooded murder case with premeditation, and now [around] 20 years later, the federal court has adopted an opinion that sets aside common sense,” Alsobrooks said. “I remember arguing to the jury about his statements to the TBI agent when he was interviewed that he hated her, he hated her, he hated her, and committed the homicide.”
Alsobrooks believes there would have been no justice had Clinard been sent to juvenile detention instead of being tried in adult court.
He said the only good news out of this case was the fact that Clinard was locked up for so long thanks to law enforcement’s and the District Attorney’s Office’s hard work on the case.
Eric Watkins, Stewart County Schools’ transportation director, told News 2 that Gregory’s death devastated the community and the 24 other children on the bus that day. He added the district has made changes to ensure this never happens again.
The judge also included new testimony from Clinard from an April 2023 transfer hearing where the 32-year-old man said he [felt] “horrible,” about the murder. “I feel – I can’t – it’s something a man can’t take back. And I wish I hadn’t done it,” Clinard testified, according to court records, “and because I impacted a lot of people very badly. And I–I wish I could turn back the clock.”
Gregory’s sister Rebecca Clairday, issued the following statement to News 2:
“Our family is very hurt by the judge’s decision. My sister doesn’t get her life back; her children don’t get their mom back. It’s just very disheartening. We pray that he doesn’t do harm to anyone else and he doesn’t move back here where we have to face him.”
Clinard was released from prison on Sept. 19. While incarcerated, he earned his GED and was working to earn his Associate’s Degree.
The Tennessee Attorney General could appeal the decision. News 2 reached out to the AG’s Office for comment but had not heard back by the time this article was published.