NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN ) — On Supertalk 99.7’s Matt Murphy Show, Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said the suspect accused of killing a Belmont University student would’ve been detained if the State Senate had been willing to take up more bills during the special session.
“But it feels like you’re saying, ‘If the Senate had been willing to take up some of the legislation the House passed in the special session that Taylor might have been in jail, or incarcerated in a mental health facility,'” asked host Matt Murphy.
“Correct. Yes, and been through an evaluation,” Sexton replied.
Sexton told News 2 he was working on an amendment to House Bill 7036, which would have changed requirements to detain someone for mental health issues.
Sexton said despite Taylor’s mental health evaluation having happened before the special session, the bill he was working on would have been effective in detaining Taylor.
“That bill would have been in effect with a new definition and new wording, prior to [the accused killer] committing those crimes in September, which would allow the DA to have the ability to ask for another evaluation to involuntary commit him since he was deemed incompetent back in May,” Sexton explained. “And so they would have put him under another mental health evaluation in September with the new law.”
According to Metro police, Taylor was released on a $20,000 bond after being charged with felony auto theft. Sexton said this would not have happened had he been able to pass his legislation.
“I don’t believe he would have been bailed out if they were putting him under a mental health evaluation due to a new involuntary commitment law,” Sexton said.
However, Sexton admits the language he presented on the House floor during the special session wasn’t the language that could’ve ultimately saved Jillian Ludwig.
“We were working to change the language state to make it even better than what it was, which would’ve handled this case, and if that would have become law when he was arrested in September, and he would, I’m confident DA [Glenn] Funk would ask for him to be involuntarily committed because he is a danger to society,” Sexton said.
Nashville defense attorney Kevin Kelly heard Sexton’s remarks and what Sexton is suggesting is a dramatic overhaul of the criminal justice system.
Kelly said if what Sexton is saying had been written into the bill and become law, a district attorney would be given a lot more power than they have right now by being able to refer criminal defendants for involuntary committal before they are found guilty or innocent.
“Because at the end of the day, that can become something that is somewhat endless, you know, for committing people who have no recourse through the system. Then we find ourselves just starting to lock people up because we don’t like certain things that they did, not because they’re, you know, competent, or because they committed a crime,” Kelly said.
He also said in his experience mental health evaluations are a time-consuming and lengthy process.
“Speaker Sexton, I think, would like us all to believe there’s some kind of action on mental health, targeting the people who are coming through the criminal justice system, [that] would keep our streets safer. When in reality, it’s the fact that we’re swimming in a sea of guns,” he said.
On the issue of guns, Sexton told Murphy he suspects the shooter got the gun from someone else and rejects the idea that gun reform would be the solution to preventing these acts of violence.