Win for public’s right to know

The Maui News won an important court battle Thursday when the three psychiatrist/psychologist reports were released by 2nd Circuit Judge Peter Cahill in the Ashley Wellman case.

According to police investigators, Wellman was traveling at 127 mph on Haleakala Highway on Oct. 8, 2016, when she ran a red light at the Makani Road intersection in Pukalani and crashed into a Toyota pickup. The crash killed the occupants of the pickup, Pukalani residents Debi Wylie, 63, and Traci Winegarner, 57. Wellman suffered a broken foot and bruising and neck and hip pain.

On Aug. 7, Cahill found Wellman not guilty of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and excessive speeding by reason of insanity in a nonjury, stipulated-facts trial.

Cahill based his acquittal on the reports of three doctors who examined Wellman’s psychological fitness. They found that she was mentally insane at the time of the crash but was fit to stand trial.

Because of the stipulated-facts trial, there was no testimony in public on her mental condition that led to the acquittal. And while Wellman has no memory of the crash and does not necessarily deny what happened, she did not have to admit guilt and face the families of those killed in the crash.

Cahill rightfully recognized that the particular circumstances of this case — a nonwitness and procedural trial rather than one with a jury of her peers, an acquittal based on confidential reports and need to provide justice for the two people who lost their lives — required the unsealing of the three psychological reports at the heart of the acquittal.

Remember, Wellman faced the possibility of life in prison without parole if convicted on the murder charges. Now, she could be free on supervised release.

After reviewing the redacted reports, there were no earthshaking revelations. But coupled with information from a dangerousness hearing that will determine Wellman’s fate in another court, the reports helped provide a fuller picture of Wellman’s state of mind when the crash occurred.

This is information that the public and the families mourning the loss of their loved ones deserve to know.

The Maui News thanks Brian Black and the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest for taking our case at no cost and helping us fight this important case.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.

COMMENTS