Court Digest

Lawsuit filed against agency that trains officers

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A lawsuit has been filed alleging that officials with the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training retaliated against whistleblowers in the agency.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday by six current and former employees against the agency responsible for training many law enforcement officers across the state, four of its top officials and the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, the Courier Journal reported.

The complaint filed by attorney Thomas Clay accuses the defendants of fabricating “a plan to terminate, demote, isolate and/or marginalize” the plaintiffs for reporting allegations that included discrimination and misconduct.

Justice Cabinet spokeswoman Morgan Hall said the Department of Criminal Justice Training was reorganized to improve training, services and the environment for employees, adding that “any claims to the contrary are meritless.”

The complaint says problems began in 2019 when Commissioner Nicolai Jilek replaced former commissioner Alex Payne shortly after Gov. Andy Beshear took office. Payne alleged age discrimination and the plaintiffs say there were retaliated against partially due to their support for the former commissioner’s claim.

Court rejects woman’s appeal in murder of ex-boyfriend

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state Supreme Court on Friday upheld the convictions of a northeast Kansas woman serving a “Hard 50” prison sentence for shooting the father of her child six times and setting his body on fire in his mother’s home.

The court unanimously rejected arguments from Tria Evans’ attorney that a Douglas County judge shouldn’t have allowed testimony that 34-year-old victim Joel Wales told others he feared Evans would kill him. Secondhand testimony generally is barred in trials, but Justice Eric Rosen noted in the court’s opinion that state law makes an exception when a witness is not available.

Evans, now 42, was convicted  of first-degree murder and arson and over Wales’ death in November 2017. She was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years.

She gave birth to her and Wales’ daughter in 2014. But the relationship was tumultuous, and Wales wanted to end it. He was killed while house-sitting at his mother’s home outside Lawrence.

The Supreme Court concluded that Wales’ statements to others helped show Evans had an “obsessive” relationship with him and planned his death. Rosen wrote in the court’s opinion that Wales’ statements were “made under conditions tending to show they were reliable.”

Psychiatrists to assess man charged in grisly death

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) — A southern Indiana man charged with killing a woman whose decapitated, mutilated body was found inside her burning apartment will be evaluated by psychiatrists to determine whether he has an intellectual disability.

A Clark County judge issued an order Wednesday calling for two psychiatrists to be appointed to assess Brian Williams and report their findings back to the court.

Williams’ public defender Bryan Abell had filed a motion Aug. 1 asking for the Clarksville man to be examined to determine, among other things, whether he has a “significantly subaverage level of functioning,” the News and Tribune reported.

Williams, 36, is charged with murder and arson in the death of 67-year-old Melody Gambetty, whose body was found by firefighters responding to a fire in her Clarksville apartment on July 26, the day after police say she was killed.

Gambetty had been decapitated and other body parts had been removed. Those body parts were later found in a suitcase at Williams’ home, police said.

Investigators believe Williams returned to Gambetty’s apartment a day after her death and started a fire to cover up evidence.

The state has not decided whether it will seek the death penalty in the case, but Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said after Williams’ July 28 initial hearing that the death penalty was being considered.

Under Indiana law, a defendant can file a petition alleging an intellectual disability in a death penalty case, which calls for these conditions to be determined, and whether they existed before the defendant was 22.

At Williams’ initial hearing, a judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. He is being held without bond at the Clark County Jail in Jeffersonville, which is located along the Ohio River just north of Louisville, Kentucky.

New Mexico
Lawsuit: Guards mistook dentures for contraband, beat inmate

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A man was brutally beaten by corrections officers and denied medical treatment at a Valencia County jail in Los Lunas after guards mistook dentures in the inmate’s mouth for contraband, according to a civil rights lawsuit.

The New Mexico Prison and Jail Project, a watchdog group for improving prison conditions, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court this week on behalf of former inmate Marvin Silva.

The group said Silva was left naked in a holding cell with no security cameras after a medical checkup, when a guard insisted that the inmate was hiding contraband in his mouth. They said several other corrections officers arrived and beat Silva.

The lawsuit seeks compensation to Silva for injuries and emotional harm, punitive damages against the jail and health care employees and attorney’s fees.

Administrators at the Valencia County Adult Detention Center could not immediately be reached for comment. The lawsuit levels charges of excessive use of force at four corrections officers and accuses prison health care provider CorrHealth and two of its employees of deliberate indifference to a person in serious medical need.

CorrHealth President Todd Murphy said Thursday that he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on a pending liability claim.

According to the lawsuit, medical personnel at the jail denied Silva’s requests for medical care before he was released to walk 5 miles (8 kilometers) toward home and hitched a ride the rest of the way.

An ambulance later transported Silva to an Albuquerque hospital that treated him for fractured ribs, a collapsed lung, injuries to the spleen and other injuries to the head, neck and abdomen.

Man whose case led to landmark ruling reconvicted by federal jury

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma death row inmate whose legal challenge led to a historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on tribal sovereignty has been convicted of murder and kidnapping in federal court.

A federal jury in Muskogee on Thursday found Patrick Murphy, 52, guilty in the 1999 killing of George Jacobs in McIntosh County in eastern Oklahoma. Murphy faces up to life in federal prison when he is formally sentenced, but will avoid the death penalty.

A citizen of the Muscogee Nation, Murphy originally was convicted in state court and sentenced to die. But he challenged his conviction in federal court, arguing the state didn’t have jurisdiction to prosecute him since he was a tribal citizen and the killing happened within the boundaries of the Muscogee Nation reservation.

“I am thankful Patrick Murphy has been held accountable for the vicious killing of George Jacobs,” acting U.S. Attorney Christopher Wilson said in a statement. “Justice was interrupted for a period of time due to the jurisdictional challenges raised by the defendant, but justice was not thwarted.”

A telephone message left Friday with Murphy’s attorneys wasn’t immediately returned.

The case ultimately made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a landmark decision last year that because the Muscogee Nation’s reservation had never been disestablished by Congress, the state did not have jurisdiction there in cases involving tribal citizens.

The Muscogee Nation’s reservation encompasses 3 million acres (12,100 square kilometers), including most of the city of Tulsa. Based on the high court’s ruling, the decision has since been expanded to include the reservations of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole nations, which cover essentially the entire eastern half of the state. It has led to hundreds of criminal convictions being thrown out, including several death penalty cases, and those cases being refiled in federal or tribal courts.

The case ended up being named for another criminal defendant, Jimcy McGirt, in a case involving similar jurisdictional issues. McGirt also was retried and convicted in federal court.

North Carolina
Sheriff sued over gun permit delay

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Gun rights organizations and three residents are suing a North Carolina sheriff alleging that his office failed to issue pistol purchase and concealed handgun permits in a timely manner.

Gun Owners of America, Gun Owners Foundation, Grass Roots North Carolina, Rights Watch International and three Mecklenburg County residents filed the lawsuit against Sheriff Garry McFadden and his office on Thursday, the Charlotte Observer reported.

The lawsuit claims that the failure to issue the permits in a timely manner violates the North Carolina Constitution. State law requires sheriffs to issue pistol permits within 14 days of the date of the application, and concealed handgun permits within 45 days. The lawsuit asks a judge to order McFadden’s office to comply with state law and immediately issue both permits to qualified applicants.

“They’re around seven months behind on concealed handgun permits,” attorney Ronald Shook, who is representing the gun rights groups,  McFadden’s office said in a statement that it couldn’t comment on a lawsuit it hasn’t yet received. But the office added that it has been “transparent and forthcoming about our inability to meet certain statutory timelines” in processing a surge of applications during the pandemic while also coping with staffing shortages.

The office is currently processing a backlog of 5,902 purchase permit applications and is working on applications from March, according to its website. The office is processing 5,901 concealed handgun applications and is now reviewing applications from January.

Appeals court upholds murder conviction of ex-Dallas officer

DALLAS (AP) — A Texas appeals court on Thursday upheld the murder conviction of a former Dallas police officer who was sentenced to prison for fatally shooting her neighbor in his home.

A panel of three state judges ruled that a Dallas County jury had sufficient evidence to convict Amber Guyger of murder in the 2018 shooting of Botham Jean.

The decision by the 5th Texas Court of Appeals in Dallas means Guyger, who turns 33 on Monday, will continue to serve her 10-year prison sentence  and largely dashes her hopes of having the 2019 conviction overturned. She will become eligible for parole in 2024, under her current sentence.

The ruling comes in a case that drew national attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of Black men by white police officers.

The appeals court justices did not dispute the basic facts of the case. Guyger, returning home from a long shift, mistook Jean’s apartment for her own, which was on the floor directly below his. Finding the door ajar, she entered and shot him, later testifying that she thought he was a burglar.

Jean, a 26-year-old accountant,  had been eating a bowl of ice cream before Guyger shot him. She was later fired from the Dallas Police Department.

Guyger’s  appeal  hung on the claim that her mistaking Jean’s apartment for her own was reasonable, and therefore, so too was the shooting. Her lawyer asked the appeals court to acquit her of murder or substitute in a conviction for criminally negligent homicide, which carries a lesser sentence.

Dallas County prosecutors countered that the error was not reasonable, that Guyger acknowledged intending to kill Jean and that “murder is a result-oriented offense.”

The court’s chief justice, Robert D. Burns III, and Justices Lana Myers and Robbie Partida-Kipness concurred with prosecutors, disagreeing that Guyger’s belief that deadly force was needed was reasonable.

In a 23-page opinion, the justices also disagreed that evidence supported a conviction of criminally negligent homicide rather than murder, and they pointed to Guyger’s own testimony that she intended to kill.

“That she was mistaken as to Jean’s status as a resident in his own apartment or a burglar in hers does not change her mental state from intentional or knowing to criminally negligent,” the judges wrote. “We decline to rely on Guyger’s misperception of the circumstances leading to her mistaken beliefs as a basis to reform the jury’s verdict in light of the direct evidence of her intent to kill.”

Defense attorneys could still ask the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — the state’s highest forum for criminal cases — to review the appeals court’s ruling. A message to Guyger’s attorney was not immediately returned.