Further evaluation may be ordered in church shooting case

| August 25, 2009

NEWPORT-Circuit Judge Ben W. Hooper II on Monday granted part of the state’s motion for another mental health evaluation of a local woman who is charged in connection with a church shooting in Newport in March 2008.

Judge Hooper permitted prosecutors to designate a mental health professional to examine 54-year-old Janet Lee Compton, but instructed the state to notify the court of the person’s qualifications and to give defense attorney Bill Leibrock an opportunity to object before an evaluation is performed.

Leibrock has filed a motion to dismiss the indictment against Compton based on the findings of at least two mental health professionals suggesting that the defendant could sustain a defense of insanity during a trial. Those reports were filed with the court last December.

Compton, of 152 Circle Road, is named in a five-count indictment in connection with a shooting incident inside Hilltop Baptist Church in March 2008. She is charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, illegal possession of a weapon, reckless endangerment involving a deadly weapon, and evading arrest.

Assistant district attorneys general Brownlow Marsh and Tonya Thornton are seeking an order from the court permitting the state to have the defendant examined by another mental health professional, something which would likely be an in-patient procedure.

"All that we’re asking for is a fair shot," Thornton told Judge Hooper during Monday’s hearing.

But defense attorney Leibrock has objected to the state’s request, saying a doctor from East Tennessee’s Cherokee Health Systems has found that Compton could support an insanity defense, a second doctor has supported those findings, and there is no need for further mental examinations of the defendant.

"She has been extensively examined, and it’s our position that there is no need and that the law does not allow the state to choose a private practitioner to examine Ms. Compton, especially in light of the passage of time in this case," Leibrock said during Monday’s hearing.

In January, Judge Hooper tentatively denied the state’s motion for another evaluation, but he allowed prosecutors time to submit legal authority supporting their position. The judge also overruled Leibrock’s motion to dismiss the indictment against Compton based on the doctors’ findings.

On Monday, prosecutor Marsh cited a provision in state law which permits the court to allow the state to name a qualified mental health professional to conduct such examinations of a defendant "if the court determines it is necessary to adjudicate [the case] fairly."

In light of that provision in law, Judge Hooper permitted prosecutors to designate someone to evaluate Compton’s mental condition and to notify the court of the person’s qualifications. He also instructed the state to tell the court if that person could make a determination of the defendant’s mental condition at the time of the crime, considering how much time has passed since the incident.

The judge will hold another hearing on October 26 to determine what further actions may be taken in the case.

Compton was arrested on March 5, 2008, and 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 in 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.

Leibrock said 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 filed in December along with Leibrock’s motion to dismiss the indictment. 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."

Other reports concerning the defendant’s mental condition from Cherokee Mental Health, Saint Mary’s Hospital in Knoxville, and other documents have been filed with the court but have been sealed by court order from public inspection.

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. 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 first-degree murder counts handed down by the Cocke County Grand Jury are listed in the criminal court indictment as Michael Compton, of 1435 Mountain Ranch Road, the defendant’s husband (the couple were reportedly in the process of divorce when the shooting occurred), 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 headed 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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