JACKSBORO, TN. (WLAF)- Convicted sexual abuser Daniel Ward is making a bid for his freedom.

On Friday, the former Campbell County Sherriff’s Deputy was brought into criminal court in shackles for his Post Conviction Relief (PCR) hearing. Ward is currently being housed at the Hardeman Correctional Facility in West Tennessee.

He is attempting to have his 10-count conviction and 54-year sentence overturned.

At the core of his argument was his trial attorney, Wesley Hatmaker, didn’t provide him with effective legal representation.

Hatmaker, who lost his law license in 2018, and spent time in prison for an unrelated crime, died in 2022.

Ward was convicted in 2011 on 10 counts of aggravated sexual battery. Following the trial, Ward was sentenced to 54 years in prison. When the case was appealed, one of the counts was dismissed by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.

Ward will have to serve the entire sentence under the law that was active at time of his offenses.

His victim was a niece who often visited his home to help care for her ailing aunt, Ward’s wife. The sexual abuse occurred numerous times over six years, according to court records. The victim only disclosed the abuse after her aunt died.

When the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation questioned Ward about the abuse, he confessed to touching the girl on one occasion when he mistook her for his wife, court records said. During his TBI interview, Ward signed a statement that essentially was a confession to his crimes not just the mistaken identity incident. The statement was presented at his trial.

For seven years, Ward has been trying to get this PCR heard. Between court delays, Hatmaker’s conviction, a pandemic and Hatmaker’s death, Ward was finally able to take the stand Friday.

Describing what he observed to be Hatmaker’s preparation for the trial, Ward said his attorney failed to call witnesses with pertinent information, didn’t investigate the case and didn’t file the needed motions to suppress evidence in the case. He further alleged Hatmaker didn’t explain the consequences of a trial and didn’t prepare him to testify.

As the trial drew near, Ward met with Hatmaker for what he assumed was finally trial preparation, Ward testified on Friday.

“He wanted me to sign a plea deal,” Ward told his current attorney Greg Isaacs.

The suggestion of a plea led to a two-hour argument between the men, because Ward was “not happy about it (the proposed plea.)”

“I wanted a trial,” Ward testified.

Under the proposed plea, Ward would have served 30 percent of 20 years in prison.

“He (Hatmaker) said he could guarantee I would parole out in six years,” Ward told the court.

When Ward refused the plea offer, this led to a heated argument between the two men. In the end, Ward agreed to the plea only to renege the morning of court.

“He got mad again,” Ward said of Hatmaker’s reaction.

Winding up his examination, Isaacs asked his client if he thought he was provided “effective representation.”

“No, sir, I do not,” Ward said.

When cross examined by Assistant District Attorney David Pollard, Ward was not as confident in his answers.

Taking Ward back to the original PCR complaint that was filed in 2015 then amended in 2016 Pollard asked where in the filing ineffective assistance on counsel was noted.

“Today, you are adding that (argument) for the first time,” Pollard said.

Then broaching if Ward regretted not taking the plea offer, Pollard asked if he would have rather served the 20 years at 30 precent than the 54 years imposed by the judge.

“I would rather not have any time. I asked for a trial,” Ward said.

With a stack of papers in his hand, Pollard said Hatmaker had filed the standard cadre of pre trial paperwork for Ward. He also noted that after conviction, Hatmaker continued to advocate for Ward by filing a motion for a new trial and an appeal.

Isaacs had included in his PCR motion that Hatmaker failed to file a motion to suppress a phone call between Ward and his victim. In that call Ward said that everybody “makes mistakes” in response to being questioned by his victim about his conduct, according to court records.

Pollard asked Ward how Hatmaker could be expected to file a motion to suppress that call when there was no case law to support suppressing it.

“I am not a lawyer,” Ward said.

In his closing argument, Isaacs called the lack of a motion to suppress “a significant issue.”

Pollard countered that Hatmaker had “fought for his client” but with the statement Ward initially gave police that amounted to a confession, a jury deemed the defendant’s own words “credible.”

Eighth Judicial Criminal Court Judge Zach Walden said he would issue a written ruling in 90 days. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED 4/17/2023- 6AM)