The defense for a 2013 capital murder suspect has asked the court to issue an order to direct the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory to release all medical examiner records surrounding the death investigation of the defendant’s mother.
The request was made by Lee Andrew Foster’s attorneys Teri Chambers and Joe Tobler, of the Arkansas Public Defender Commission, in a Jan. 14 motion in Faulkner County Circuit Court.
The motion states the defense requests the files surrounding Foster’s mother, identified as Lygia Hammonds, and her death, as it searches for potential mitigating evidence.
According to the motion, Hammonds died on or about May 14, 2008, "under circumstances warranting an autopsy."
The defense said it has confirmed an autopsy was completed.
"It is imperative the defendant’s attorneys obtain and review these records to determine if they contain or lead to the development of mitigating evidence," the motion states. "A defendant who may be sentenced to death has a constitutional right to present mitigating evidence, and failure his attorney to throughly investigate the defendant’s background will render the assistance of his counsel ineffective."
The defense said the State Crime Laboratory would not release the files unless ordered by the court while "being cautious not to run afoul of the confidentiality statue," since Hammonds’ death did not result in the charges against Foster.
"The entire medical examiner’s file should be released to counsel for Foster as the information it contains is potentially relevant and necessary material to the defense," the motion states. "The medical examiner’s file ordinarily contains not only the report on the autopsy, but also reports or other information received from the law enforcement agency investigating the death."
The defense said law enforcement agencies have informed it no "relevant records" can be located as they are "only retained for a specified period of time."
In support of its motion, the defense includes the American Bar Association’s Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases. In the motion, various phrases of the guidelines, including "family and social history," "substance abuse," "the loss of a loved one," — which is mentioned as files the counsel is allowed to explore for mitigating evidence — are highlighted with bold type.
Foster, 28, of Morrilton, is charged with capital murder, first-degree battery, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a certain person for his alleged involvement in the Father’s Day shooting death of 23-year-old Quenton Alexander.
Conway police responded to Motel 6, located at 1105 Skyline Drive, around 1:30 a.m. on June 16, and discovered Alexander — later identified as a relative of Foster — shot to death in the parking lot. A 20-year-old Vilonia man was also injured in the shooting, but was unrelated to an "ongoing feud" between Foster and Alexander, police said.
Foster and Sierra Nicole Cook, 19, were arrested June 20 in Morrilton. Cook, also of Morrilton, was originally charged with hindering the apprehension of Foster, but was additionally charged with capital murder Sept. 24. Unlike Foster, prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty in Cook’s case.
Foster is scheduled to appear before Circuit Judge Mike Maggio at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
At his previous hearing Oct. 30, when prosecutors decided they would seek the death penalty, Foster’s attorneys requested the Jan. 29 hearing, citing a planned trip in January. Tobler said the defense wold have an idea of how much time it would need for a jury trial following the trip. Specifics of the trip were not disclosed by Tobler in court.
Foster is currently serving time at the Grimes Unit in Newport, regarding probation revocation from two Faulkner County criminal cases in 2006 and 2007, according to the Arkansas Department of Corrections website.
Cook, represented by private attorney Frank Shaw, is set to appear before Maggio on Feb. 3. The teen is currently being held without bond at the Faulkner County jail.
(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1246. Follow Lee Hogan on Twitter at twitter.com/LCD_LeeHogan.)