Judge inclined to release redacted mental reports
Three reports led to acquittal of murder by reason of insanity
WAILUKU — Second Circuit Judge Peter Cahill said he is inclined to release redacted versions of three mental health professionals’ reports that resulted in the acquittal by reason of insanity of a woman who was charged with murder in a fatal traffic collision.
“I do recognize the public’s legitimate interest in access to the reports, obtaining information bearing on the workings of the criminal justice system . . . ,” Cahill said in making a preliminary ruling during a hearing Thursday afternoon.
He said The Maui News’ threshhold showing of need to have the reports unsealed in the public interest needed to be balanced against the privacy interests of Ashley Wellman. He said the reports included references to histories provided by Wellman, other medical providers and irrelevant information.
Cahill set an Oct. 5 deadline for attorneys to file proposed findings before he issues a final decision and redacts the reports.
If there is an appeal of the court decision to the state Supreme Court, Cahill said he would consider delaying the release of the redacted reports until the process is completed. “Not only do I have an expectation there would be an appeal, I would ask somebody to file something,” he said.
Wellman, 34, of Waiehu was found not guilty of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and excessive speeding.
Three doctors who conducted psychiatric or psychological examinations agreed that, at the time of the crash, she was affected by a physical or mental disease, disorder or defect that substantially impaired her capacity to conform her conduct to the requirements of the law.
A police investigation determined that Wellman was driving a 2011 silver Nissan Altima that ran a red light while traveling 127 mph uphill on Haleakala Highway at 10:26 a.m. on Oct. 8, 2016. The sedan broadsided a white 1998 Toyota pickup truck that was turning left onto the highway from Makani Road.
Pukalani residents Debi Wylie, 63, who was driving the truck, and her passenger and partner, Traci Winegarner, 57, died at the scene of the collision.
In Wellman’s nonjury trial Aug. 7, Judge Cahill relied on facts that were agreed upon by the defense and prosecution in finding by a preponderance of the evidence that Wellman, at the time of the crash, was affected by a physical or mental disease, disorder or defect that substantially impaired her capacity to conform her conduct to the requirements of the law or her capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of her conduct.
When a fact is stipulated to, the judge or jury must accept that as conclusively proving the fact, Cahill said. “There is no wiggle room there,” he said.
“If the state believed there were facts to the contrary, there would not have been a stipulated-facts trial,” he said. “But there were no facts to the contrary. The law required me to render the verdict.”
Cahill said a court order hadn’t been issued to seal the mental health reports.
Deputy Attorney General Debbie Tanakaya said the state health director wasn’t taking a position on whether the reports should be opened to the public in Wellman’s case but wanted to make sure that mental health examination records continue to be sealed in other cases.
“We did file this motion because of that overarching snowball effect,” Tanakaya said. “It’s just to make sure that the overall process remains the same.”
Cahill said he was considering only Wellman’s case.
“There’s clearly public interest in the records,” said attorney Brian Black of the Civil Beat Law Center for Public Interest, representing The Maui News. “With this case in particular, the public has an interest in what happened with respect to the acquittal of a woman who killed two people. Everything with respect to the basis for that decision is important for the public to have access to.”
Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Martin said the prosecution had no position on the release of the records.
“We recognize there are two families here who are mourning the loss of their loved ones and also grieving over the result in this case,” Martin said. “They have expressed some interest in the contents of those reports.”
Wellman’s attorney, Matthew Nardi, said the reports were private health records that shouldn’t be released.
Judge Cahill said the reports were forensic medical legal opinions from examinations conducted at taxpayer expense to determine a defendant’s fitness to proceed and penal responsibility.
The reports weren’t introduced as evidence in Wellman’s trial. But Cahill said the stipulated facts submitted for the trial referred to the doctors’ opinions and reports.
While he didn’t base his decision acquitting Wellman on the reports, Cahill said he read the reports in preparation for gauging Wellman’s competency as he questioned her about waiving her right to a jury trial.
Nardi said it was the first time attorneys were hearing that the judge had reviewed the reports.
After being acquitted, Wellman was transported to the Hawaii State Hospital, where she is being held temporarily. Hearings on her dangerousness and whether she should be released are set to begin Sept. 14 before 2nd Circuit Judge Richard Bissen.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.