News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Judge right to deny venue change for Barksdale trial

Limestone Circuit Judge Bob Baker ruled this week that extensive news media coverage of the shooting deaths of Athens policemen Tony Mims and Larry Russell was no reason to move the trial of the accused, Farron Barksdale, 30.

The coverage in newspapers and on television of the tragedy was extensive, in part because the killing of officer Mims and Sgt. Russell rekindled the larger debate of how Mr. Barksdale, given his background of mental illness, was able to purchase a gun legally.

He pleaded not guilty to capital murder because of mental illness.

Amid the tragedy of losing two outstanding officers, the debate shifted to why it happened. Did society fail this man who obviously needed more help than he received? Could tighter controls on gun purchases have denied him access to a firearm?

Information about his ability to purchase a gun so easily was enough to move the Legislature to pass a law that requires the state to report most incidents when a person is involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. The information is for use in the national database that screens firearm applicants.

In this case, pleading innocent because of mental disease acknowledges Mr. Barksdale committed the acts. Thus, jurors' burden will be to determine if he was insane at the time of the Jan. 2, 2004, tragedy.

Judges are rarely justified in granting change of venue motions. Saying that a jury can't give a fair or impartial verdict is an indictment of the men and women who serve as jurors.

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