A Calhoun County judge on Wednesday barred prosecutors and defense attorneys from discussing with the media or public the case of a man charged with capital murder in a 2011 case.
The judge also planned to hold a hearing this summer to determine whether the defendant suffers from a mental disease or defect.
The gag order and hearing plans were made during a hearing set to determine whether the defense would be able to discuss the diminished mental capacity of Tyrone Christopher Thompson, 35, during his trial, which is to begin Aug. 19. He is charged in the 2011 death of a Wellborn Elementary School teacher.
Because the trial is set for August, Calhoun County Circuit Judge Debra Jones ruled, both parties are prohibited from speaking about Thompson’s case outside the courtroom in order to avoid swaying potential jurors. Jones said hearings in the case are still open to the public.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh accused defense attorneys of telling The Star that Thompson had the mind of an 8-year-old which, he said, was not on the court’s record or supported by court documents or testimony.
“They’re making statements that can’t be backed up,” McVeigh said.
Jones planned for a hearing to determine whether Thompson has a mental disease after prosecutors and the defense argued over whether his mental capacity can be discussed in court. At the new hearing, Jones said, forensic psychiatrists who examined Thompson would give their opinions on Thompson’s mental state.
Defense attorneys argued that the court recognized Thompson’s intellectual disability before barring him from the death penalty. Jones said an intellectual disability and a mental disease or defect are different things.
If Thompson is found to have a mental disease, Jones said, defense attorneys can bring it up during the trial. Jones said the hearing would likely be held in late June or early July.
During the Wednesday hearing, McVeigh and Assistant District Attorney Lynn Hammond, prosecutors in the case, asked that Jones prohibit them and the defense from discussing his mental capacity during the trial.
McVeigh argued that the state does not recognize a defendant’s diminished mental capacity as an affirmative defense during a trial.
“In the guilt phase it ought to be about whether he did it or whether he didn’t, not whether he has diminished capacity,” McVeigh said.
Warren Freeman, one of three attorneys defending Thompson, said Thompson pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect and said defense attorneys should be allowed to present his mental capacity in an affirmative defense under that plea.
Freeman argued that Thompson’s intellectual disability played a big role in his life. He said the jury may judge Thompson during the trial under the assumption that he is sane if his intellectual disability is not mentioned in court.
“To not allow them to know that he has the mind of a child is blatantly wrong,” Freeman said.
Jones questioned Thompson’s diminished mental capacity, stating that he had obtained a drivers’ license, held a job and developed parenting skills. Freeman said people with intellectual disabilities can do those things.
McVeigh said one of the psychiatrists reported Thompson did not suffer from a mental disease or defect.
Thompson, who was present in the courtroom, said goodbye and waved to members of the public in the gallery before the hearing concluded.
Thompson is one of three people charged, and the only one not convicted, with killing 29-year-old Wellborn Elementary teacher Kevin Thompson of Jacksonville in April 2011.
Police told The Star in 2011 the three men kidnapped Kevin Thompson from his home at Jackson Trace Apartments and forced him to withdraw money from ATMs in Jacksonville and Anniston.
Afterward, police said, the three drove Kevin Thompson’s car to Cherokee County, where they killed him and left his body on the side of U.S. 278.
The state Court of Appeals ordered new sentencing hearings for Smith and Gaston in 2018 after ruling in separate appeals that their juries should not have heard testimony from Kevin Thompson’s mother and sister calling for the death penalty.
Thompson, who has been in the Calhoun County Jail since 2011, remained there Wednesday with no bond set.