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A First Amendment expert said in an interview with the New York Post this week that blocking the release of the manifesto of the transgender-identifying woman who shot six people at a Nashville Christian school would be unprecedented.
Deborah Fisher, the executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, told the Post that there was no real history of victims being able to prevent the release of public crime records. Fisher is also the director of Middle Tennessee State University’s John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies.
“There’s nothing really to indicate that there would be this ability for victims to veto the release of otherwise public records and in, and in this case, crime records,” she told the Post.
“In this case, the perpetrator is dead,” she added. “But if the shooter had gone to trial, most likely the writings of the shooter would be part of the evidence in the case about motivation.”
Fisher’s comments come after a group of parents and school officials have moved to keep the manifesto of the 28-year-old woman who killed three children and three adults at The Covenant School in March. The Daily Wire is not naming the shooter in keeping with a company policy that seeks to deprive mass killers of the notoriety they often crave.
Fisher said that laws protecting Tennessee victims did not have “carte blanche” authority over open record laws.
“I don’t think that in that situation, the victims could veto those being submitted in a public trial, and I don’t think that they can veto them being released as crime evidence in a case that doesn’t go to trial because the person is dead,” Fisher said.
Victims do have privacy rights established in Tennessee law, but Fisher said that veto power over crime records would be a new development.
“There are a lot of reasons not to think that there was ever any intention that there’d be an unspecified kind of veto right of victims to prevent the release of public records,” she said. “If the courts do conclude that victims have a veto over the release of crime records, that would create a whole new equation in Tennessee about what the public gets to know about crime or even possibly criminal trials.”
Several news outlets, including The Daily Wire, have requested copies of the manifesto through open records laws, but have so far been denied. A lawsuit is ongoing as to whether Metro Nashville Police will be allowed to release the manifesto.
Victims of the shooting included three students — Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9; Hallie Scruggs, 9; William Kinney, 9 — and three staff members — headmaster Katherine Koonce, 60; Cynthia Peak, 61; and Mike Hill, 61.
The shooter was shot and killed by Nashville police, who found five laptops, a suicide note, two memoirs, five Covenant School yearbooks, and seven cellphones at the shooter’s property.