Judge Rules Covenant School Killer’s Writings Exempt from Release Due to Copyright Claims

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee – In a late-night decision released at 11:58 pm on Thursday, Tennessee Chancery Court Judge I’Ashea L. Myles ruled that none of the writings left by Covenant School killer Audrey Elizabeth Hale shall be released to the multiple parties who sued Metro Nashville for their disclosure. The ruling cited the copyright claims of the parents who were previously allowed to intervene in the lawsuit.

Judge Myles sided with the defendants and intervenors, denying the release of documents to a group of media organizations and individuals. Those who sued included The editor-in-chief Michael Patrick Leahy, the Tennessee Firearms Association, State Representative Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), and The Tennessean.

The judge’s decision came after more than 80 pages of Hale’s writings were obtained by The Star from a source familiar with the investigation. The Star has since published over 60 articles containing Hale’s words or details about the investigation.

Copyright Claims and Legal Rationale

Judge Myles initially allowed parents from the Covenant School, the school itself, and the Covenant Presbyterian Church to intervene in the case after Hale’s family claimed they assigned the copyright of her written materials to these parties. In her ruling, Myles stated, “materials created by Hale are exempted from disclosure based on the federal Copyright Act.”

Despite Hale’s death at the Covenant School, where she killed three children and three adults on March 27, 2023, the police investigation remains ongoing. The judge emphasized that the timeline for the investigation’s completion is unclear. Myles cited legislation protecting documents obtained during police investigations, stating, “during the pendency of this investigation and any legal proceedings thereafter, the investigative files of the police and materials therein are not available” to the public.

Public Safety and Legal Precedents

Judge Myles also referenced Tennessee law, asserting that “any documents, information or plans related to school security shall not be disclosed at any time to ensure the safety of both Tennessee schools and schools broadly.” She concluded that the federal Copyright Act serves as a valid exemption to the Tennessee Public Records Act, preempting the disclosure of any original work created by Hale.

“The Petitioners have no right to any such requested information,” Myles declared. She further clarified that Nashville “need not disclose any materials which are in its open investigative file and are relevant to any pending or contemplated criminal action until such investigation and any collateral criminal proceedings are complete.”

Ongoing Legal Battles

Michael Patrick Leahy and Star News Digital Media Inc. remain plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit seeking to compel the FBI to release Hale’s writings. Last month, The Star published an FBI memo sent to MNPD Chief John Drake in May 2023, shortly after the lawsuits were filed. The memo advised MNPD against releasing “legacy tokens” from killers like Hale, indicating that both the writings obtained by The Star and those sought in the lawsuits are considered unfit for public release by the intelligence agency.

The FBI did not confirm it sent the memo but acknowledged it sends such “products” to local law enforcement to further mutual goals.

Source: Tennesse Star

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