In 2008, Kelley Cannon murdered her husband. She was later convicted of first degree murder and is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence. While serving her sentence, she has attempted to benefit financially from her husband’s death by claiming a share of his estate and an insurance trust that he had established. Paul Gontarek and Kelly Caissie, two attorneys in our firm, recently convinced the Tennessee Court of Appeals to rule against Mrs. Cannon based upon the Slayer Statute.
The Slayer Statute prevents a killer from inheriting from the victim. For this statute to apply, proof of the killing must be established by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., more likely than not). Independent proof of the killing should be unnecessary since Mrs. Cannon’s criminal conviction required proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a much more difficult standard. Nevertheless, it took 8 years and two trips through the Davidson County Probate Court and the Tennessee Court of Appeals to invoke the Slayer Statute without a second murder trial. Paul and Kelly convinced the Court of Appeals to apply a legal doctrine known as Collateral Estoppel, which permits the Court to recognize the criminal conviction as proof of the killing.
The Court reached a sensible result and allowed the decedent’s three children to inherit the entire estate and insurance trust.