Compton pleads guilty to church shooting

| April 19, 2010

A local woman entered guilty pleas this week to several charges in connection with a church shooting in Newport in March 2008.

Under the terms of a negotiated plea agreement between defense and prosecution attorneys, Janet Lee Compton, 54, of 152 Circle Road, was sentenced by Circuit Judge Ben W. Hooper II to time served in jail with the balance of a ten-year sentence to be served under supervised probation.

Compton pled guilty to two counts of attempted murder in connection with the incident inside Hilltop Baptist Church on March 5, 2008, and to charges of reckless endangerment, possession of a weapon, and evading arrest by motor vehicle.

She was sentenced to a ten-year term of incarceration, which was reduced in the plea-bargain to time served with the balance on supervised probation. She also agreed to submit to mental health treatment as needed during the probationary period and was ordered to return the handgun used in the shooting to her estranged husband, Michael Compton, of 1435 Mountain Ranch Road. Police reported that Michael Compton was the woman's target when she opened fire inside the church during a Wednesday evening service.

The plea agreement brings an end to the case, which included opinions by two mental health professionals that Compton could likely support a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity during a trial.

Defense attorney Bill Leibrock had a motion pending before Judge Hooper to dismiss the indictment against Compton based on those doctors' opinions. Prosecutors had objected to a dismissal, although the state had been pursuing its own evaluation of the defendant's mental health.

Compton is named in a five-count indictment in connection with a shooting incident inside Hilltop Baptist Church on March 5, 2008.

Compton was arrested after fleeing from the church in her vehicle, and was released the following May. During that time, she was evaluated by Cherokee Health Systems and a report by Dr. Patricia Arena was filed with the court last December.

Dr. Arena reported that Compton suffers from depression and has "a fragmented memory" of the events of March 5, when she allegedly fired at least one shot from a handgun inside the church.

The doctor's report says that Arena found that Compton does understand the charges against her and is competent to stand trial, but that she "is unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions" and could support an insanity defense during the trial of her case.

A second evaluation by a doctor from Baptist Health Services supports Dr. Arena's diagnosis of depression and other physical and mental illnesses, but that doctor said he "cannot comment" on the defendant's state of mind on the night of the church shooting.

The second evaluation, by Dr. Francis P. LeBuffe, was also filed in December. Dr. LeBuffe said Compton is being treated for "bipolar disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Since I did not see Ms. Compton until 4.5 months after the events of March 5, 2008, I cannot comment on her mental state that day based on personal examination," Dr. LeBuffe wrote. "However, my examinations of Ms. Compton since July 2008 and her documented history clearly indicate that she has suffered from severe and persistent mental illness for many years.

"Given her history and my examinations of the patient since July 2008,…I believe that it is quite likely that she was in a state of severe depression with psychosis and dissociative symptoms on March 5, 2008," Dr. LeBuffe continued. "This condition would certainly have severely impaired her ability to recognize the nature of her actions and her capacity to control her behavior in conformity with the requirements of law and reason."

Compton is accused of firing at least one shot inside Hilltop Baptist Church during a Wednesday evening service shortly after 7 p.m. on March 5, 2008. When the 9mm Ruger pistol was fired inside the church, the bullet hit the floor and a table, and then lodged into the pulpit at the front of the church.

The pistol's clip, reportedly containing six live rounds, was found near the gun, which still had one bullet chambered and was ready to fire.

The victims of the two alleged attempted murder counts handed down by the Cocke County Grand Jury are listed in the criminal court indictment as Michael Compton and Cline Franklin, of 122 Brookfield Drive, who witnesses said was approaching the woman inside the church when the shot was fired.

After Compton pulled the telephone cord out of the church's wall, Michael Compton reportedly ran outside the church and the woman followed.

At that point, Janet Compton got into a 2004 Saturn VUE and drove west on Knoxville Highway. The car overturned in the Carson Springs community during a chase involving both police and sheriff's deputies.

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Category: Church Security

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