[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TENN., USA, VA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 28 00:47:37 CST 2005
Attorney claims Thompson's privacy violated
Tennessee has violated the privacy rights of a death row inmate, according
to his lawyers, who've asked the state Supreme Court to issue a protective
In a separate but related statement to the court, Nashville-based attorney
Michael Passino has provided more medical information to substantiate
claims that Gregory Thompson isn't fit to be executed so he shouldn't be
Thompson, 43, is the death row inmate scheduled for execution Feb. 7 for
the stabbing death of Brenda Blanton Lane nearly 21 years ago. Lane was a
Shelbyville resident who was abducted by Thompson and his girlfriend, who
wanted her car so they could go to Georgia.
Lane was an employee of the United Methodist Publishing House in
Nashville, a former reporter for the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, and the
niece of then-police chief Jesse Blanton. She was abducted in a parking
lot across from the police station and killed in Coffee County.
In his request for a protective order, Passino says Thompson's medical
records, recordings of his telephone calls, a visitor's log and other
documents have been obtained by Jennifer L. Smith, senior counsel for the
Tennessee Attorney General's office team dealing with death penalty cases.
Some of the records are public documents, Passino notes. However, he
claims that the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act
of 1996 protects Thompson.
"Thompson has a right to privacy in his medical and mental health
records," the lawyer wrote to the Supreme Court. "The mere filing of a
lawsuit or becoming embroiled in a legal action where mental status is at
issue does not constitute a waiver of HIPAA rights or privacy
Passino complains about the way Smith obtained Thompson's records,
alleging it's been done without court approval.
However, Passino's request to the state Supreme Court also includes
mention of a subpoena issued by Coffee County Circuit Court.
Passino also says that when he sought to obtain copies of the recordings
of Thompson's phone calls, he was denied and was told that they were
confidential. Furthermore, he claims, the state Attorney General's office
hasn't maintained a history of exchanging information discovered during
the course of litigation.
Passino learned what Smith had been doing when he received Thompson's
prison records. He found two memos by Smith from early 2004.
"There was also a blind subpoena authored by District Attorney General
Mickey Layne and issued by the Coffee County Circuit Court," Passino
Apparently, the Coffee County district attorney got a subpoena for Smith
and it "purports to compel the Tennessee Department of Corrections - to
release - Thompson's medical information to the - attorney general,"
The subpoena was sent by fax to Debra Inglis, an assistant attorney
general assigned to the TDOC, Passino said. As the TDOC attorney, Inglis
apparently forwarded the subpoena for use in obtaining records for Smith.
In a January 2004 memo, Smith apparently directed a prison warden to
provide visitor logs and recordings of Thompson's phone calls, the
inmate's lawyer states.
Logs are public records, but Passino complains that Smith is using a
section of the Open Records Act to keep telephone recordings secret.
Exceptions to the open records act include aspects of ongoing
investigations. In Smith's March memo to the warden, Passino says, she
directed the warden to provide weekly copies of records and sought
Thompson's discipline, education, medical and psychological/psychiatric
No state official notified Thompson's attorneys about the subpoena or took
any steps to protect Thompson's privacy rights, Passino said.
"There is no indication that the subpoena procured by - Layne on behalf of
- Smith was reviewed by any judicial authority," Passino states.
"It appears that a person, probably not - Layne, wrote 'DA's office Mickey
Layne [with a phone number written]' on the subpoena, [then] had the
Coffee County Circuit Court Clerk sign the subpoena and then faxed a copy
of this subpoena to the Criminal Justice Division of the Attorney
General's Office in Nashville, which then faxed it to the TDOC."
Sending the subpoena to the TDOC lawyer -- an employee of the attorney
general -- instead of to Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, where
Thompson is held, resulted in a failure by TDOC to be sure confidential
records were not disclosed, Passino states. "This conduct raises the
specter of the government's unchecked and unlimited ability to obtain
confidential information, not just about Mr. Thompson, but about any
Tennessee citizen," the defense attorney said in documents filed Nov. 18.
Smith circumvented established procedure, Passino said, to get medical
records on Thompson.
Meanwhile, Passino says, Smith has been arguing that information such as
what she's compiled is irrelevant to the contention that Thompson is not
competent to be executed.
"An order of this court is required to curb this abusive use of power and
to protect Mr. Thompson's privacy rights," Passino wrote to the Supreme
Thompson's lawyer wants the court to require the attorney general to
lawfully seek information which would be subject to court review and to
require the attorney general to share what that office found about
All proceedings should be postponed until Thompson's lawyers have had time
to review the records, Passino said.
As for additional medical information provided by Passino regarding
Thompson's mental state, there are statements including one from Dr.
One aspect of Thompson's mania is that he constantly seeks and enjoys
personal attention, but during Dr. Wood's attempt to examine Thompson on
Nov. 16, Thompson refused to come out of his cell, Passino states.
That is "potentially indicative of a substantial change in his mental
health," Passino states, quoting Woods.
Sufficient change in Thompson's mental condition is reason to stop his
execution, Passino and other attorneys have claimed.
Tennessee's standard for execution, however, is nominal. The condemned
simply must know that they are to be executed and why.
(source: Shelbyville Times-Gazette)
Mental Records Missing From Gun Database
In Alabama, a man with a history of mental illness killed 2 police
officers with a rifle he bought on Christmas Eve.
In suburban New York, a schizophrenic walked into a church during Mass and
shot to death a priest and a parishioner.
In Texas, a woman taking anti-psychotic medication used a shotgun to kill
Not one of their names was in a database that licensed gun dealers must
check before making sales -- even though federal law prohibits the
mentally ill from purchasing guns.
Most states have privacy laws barring such information from being shared
with law enforcement. Legislation pending in Congress that has bipartisan
support seeks to get more of the disqualifying records in the database.
In addition to mandating the sharing of mental health records, the
legislation would require that states improve their computerized
record-keeping for felony records and domestic violence restraining orders
and convictions, which also are supposed to bar people from purchasing
Similar measures, opposed by some advocates for the mentally ill and
gun-rights groups, did not pass Congress in 2002 and 2004.
The FBI, which maintains the National Instant Criminal Background Check
System, has not taken a position on the bill, but the bureau is blunt
about what adding names to its database would do.
"The availability of this information will save lives," the FBI said in a
More than 53 million background checks for gun sales have been conducted
since 1998, when the NICS replaced a five-day waiting period. More than
850,000 sales have been denied, the FBI reported; in most of those cases,
the applicant had a criminal record.
Legislation sponsored by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., says millions of
records are either missing or incomplete. "The computer is only as good as
the information you put in it," McCarthy said.
In the Alabama case, police say Farron Barksdale ambushed the officers as
they arrived at the home of his mother in Athens, Ala., on Jan. 2, 2004.
Barksdale had been committed involuntarily to mental hospitals on at least
two occasions, authorities said.
Facing the death penalty, he has pleaded not guilty and not guilty by
reason of mental disease and defect.
The shootings led Alabama lawmakers to share with the FBI the names of
people who have been committed involuntarily to mental institutions. But
just 20 other states provide NICS at least some names of people with
serious mental illness, a disqualifier for gun purchases under federal law
Shayla Stewart had been hospitalized five times in Texas, twice by court
order. Yet Stewart was able to buy a shotgun at a Wal-Mart in 2003 because
Texas considers mental health records confidential.
The same is true in New York, where Peter Troy was twice admitted to
mental hospitals but bought a .22-caliber rifle that he used in the
shootings inside a Long Island church in March 2002. Troy is serving
consecutive life terms for the killings.
As a result of the church shootings, McCarthy and Sen. Charles Schumer,
D-N.Y., introduced legislation that year to close the gaps in the
background check system. The bill would have required the states to give
the FBI their records and provided $250 million in grants to cover their
The bill passed the House without opposition but stalled in the Senate. In
2004, the measure again had the support of lawmakers who support gun
rights, but it did not pass Congress.
McCarthy, whose husband was among six people shot to death on a Long
Island Rail Road train in 1993, has introduced it again this year, but it
has not yet been taken up by a House Judiciary subcommittee.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, a National Rifle Association board member, was
a sponsor of the bill in the last Congress and continues to support it,
spokesman Dan Whiting said. The NRA supports the concept, but it has not
taken a position on McCarthy's legislation, spokesman Andrew Arulanandam
Michael Faenza, president and chief executive of the National Mental
Health Association, said forcing states to share information on the
mentally ill would violate patient privacy and contribute to the stigma
"It's just not fair. On the one hand, we want there to be very limited
access to guns," Faenza said. "But here you're singling out people because
of a medical condition and denying them rights held by everyone else."
Several states have determined that they can flag residents who should not
be allowed to buy a gun without compromising the privacy of mental health
patients, said Matt Bennett, a spokesman for Americans for Gun Safety,
which supports the bill.
Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America, said adding
records to the database is the wrong idea. "Our idea of improving NICS is
to abolish it," Pratt said. "There is this continuing assumption that a
gun buyer is guilty until proven innocent."
The states that provide some or all mental health records are: Alabama,
Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico,
North Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
On the Net: National Instant Criminal Background Check System:
Americans for Gun Safety: http://www.americansforgunsafety.com/
Gun Owners of America: http://www.gunowners.org
Information on the bill, H.R. 1415, can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/
(source: Associated Press)
Warner still pondering Va. killer's fate
A national milestone in the use of society's ultimate sanction may be
reached next week about 60 miles south of Richmond.
Death row inmate Robin Lovitt is scheduled to be executed by injection on
Wednesday at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt.
If his clemency petition to Gov. Mark R. Warner is denied, Lovitt's could
be the 1,000th execution in the U.S. since 1977, when executions resumed
after a 10-year halt imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ellen Qualls, spokeswoman for Warner, said yesterday that she feels
"confident he won't announce any decision this weekend. But since no other
court action is pending, he could act prior to the 30th."
Since 1977, only Texas, with 357 executions, has put to death more killers
than Virginia, with 94. According to the Death Penalty Information Center,
Texas and Virginia alone account for nearly 1/2 the toll over the past 3
Virginia resumed executions in 1982 with the electrocution of Frank J.
Coppola at the former Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond. Executions
are now conducted at the prison in Jarratt.
Since January 1995, the condemned have had the option of dying by the
electric chair or lethal injection.
Lovitt, 41, sentenced to death for the 1998 slaying of a pool hall
employee in Arlington during a robbery, has asked Warner to commute his
death sentence to life without parole.
Among his arguments for mercy, he points out that the Arlington County
Circuit Court ordered the evidence in his case destroyed, shortly after a
new state law ordered the preservation of such evidence. His lawyers
contend new DNA testing on the evidence could clear him or raise doubts
about his guilt.
(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
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