News Roundup

I am saddened to share news of the tragic shooting that took place on the UNC’s campus Monday, which led to the death of Professor Zijie Yan. Reports of shots fired led to an hours-long lockdown on the campus and public schools nearby. UNC graduate student Tailei Qi, who was a member of Yan’s research group, has been charged with first-degree murder and carrying a gun on an educational campus in connection with the shooting.

Thank you to all who have reached out to us here at the School of Government.

Keep reading for more criminal law news.

Tensions run high during Tennessee special legislative session. In March, a deadly school shooting claimed the lives of three children and three staff members at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee. In response, Governor Bill Lee called a special legislative session for lawmakers to consider a “red flag” law and other public safety measures. According to this story, the session ended on Tuesday “with no progress on gun safety laws, capped by a brief scuffle between opposing lawmakers.” Republicans, who hold a supermajority in the state legislature, remain steadfast in their refusal to pass any laws they deem as threats to citizens’ constitutional right to own guns.

Speaking of constitutional rights, U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane announced an order this week that would help protect defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that under the order, anyone held in jail in Washington County, Oregon without a court-appointed attorney will be released within 10 days after their initial court appearance. The order affects 36 inmates who were in custody without counsel at the time of the announcement and will apply to “any future defendants similarly situated.”

Changes to prisoner transport policy. US News and other outlets have reported that the Marion County sheriff in Indianapolis announced changes to a prisoner transport policy Wednesday following the killing of a sheriff’s deputy during an escape attempt. The deputy was alone in transporting a murder suspect when the inmate used the chain of his handcuffs to choke the officer while being returned to jail after a hospital visit. Changes to the prisoner transport policy will include requiring two deputies for off-site medical transports, reevaluating the off-site transports to see if they can be completed on-site, and requiring murder suspects to wear red clothing as a reminder of their potential danger.

Alabama seeking to become the first state to execute a prisoner using nitrogen. US News reports that Alabama’s proposed execution method includes fitting a mask over the inmate’s face and replacing their breathing air with nitrogen until their heart stops. Nitrogen hypoxia has been authorized as an execution method in Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi, but no state has used the method to carry out a death sentence. If Alabama carries out an execution by nitrogen, it will be the first new execution method since lethal injection was introduced in the 1970s.

More consequences for Murdaugh. Former attorney Alex Murdaugh is serving a life sentence without parole for killing his wife and younger son. Murdaugh has recently lost his phone privileges, his prison tablet computer, and his ability to buy items in the prison canteen after his lawyer recorded him reading his journal entries on a call for a documentary about his case. South Carolina Corrections Department policy prohibits inmates from talking to the media without permission because the agency “believes that victims of crime should not have to see or hear the person who victimized them or their family member on the news.” Murdaugh will have to get permission from prison officials to get another tablet, to use for activities like making monitored phone calls or watching approved entertainment.

I’ve always dreamed of finding a bag of money on the ground, as I’m sure others have. Unfortunately, this dream turned into a nightmare for Robert Withington when he was arrested months after finding a bag full of $5,000 in cash in a parking lot. Connecticut police say that the bag was clearly marked with a bank’s insignia and was found outside the same bank. The bag contained cash from the town’s tax department, and there were “numerous documents” inside identifying the rightful owner of the cash. The money went missing on May 30 after an employee in the Trumbull Tax Collector’s office inadvertently dropped it on the ground outside of the bank. Withington, who picked it up, asserts he didn’t steal the money and didn’t notice anything inside the bag indicating who the owner was. He was charged last Friday with third-degree larceny, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.