By Joe Beck
WOODSTOCK -- Defense attorneys for accused murderer Claude Shafer cannot withhold background information about their client from the prosecution, Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp ruled in a hearing this week in Shenandoah County Circuit Court.
Edward Ungvarsky, a member of the Northern Virginia Capital Public Defender Unit, told Hupp on Thursday that records that shed light on Shafer's life before he was charged with capital murder should be accessible only to defense attorneys and Hupp.
Shafer, 35, formerly of 14447 Old Valley Pike, Edinburg, could receive the death penalty if convicted. Authorities say he stabbed and robbed Phyllis Kline, 65, of 14887 Old Valley Pike in her Edinburg home on June 14, 2013.
Ungvarsky cited medical records, school records and mental health evaluations as examples of the types of records he might subpoena. Information gleaned from them would be used during the mitigation phase of the trial, which would be necessary only if Shafer is convicted of murder.
Such evidence could include psychiatric problems, childhood abuse or neglect or the lack of an extensive criminal record.
Ungvarsky said disclosure to Commonwealth's Attorney Amanda Wiseley could reveal the legal strategy he plans to use in the case. Shafer is also represented by Public Defender Timothy Coyne.
Ungvarsky said such documents could also contain information that the prosecution could use to argue for the death penalty.
"Your honor, we need to evaluate whether we want to give up his privacy to people who, with all due respect, are trying to kill him," Ungvarsky told Hupp.
Wiseley insisted she had a right to see any subpoened documents.
"Your honor, there is no authority under the law to do this ex parte," Wiseley said, referring to the practice of allowing only the judge and defense attorneys to see the documents.
After rejecting Ungvarsky's motion, Hupp scheduled the next hearing for 2 p.m. Oct. 1.
Ungvarsky told Hupp he might ask for another hearing before Oct. 1 to seek appointment of a mental health expert to examine Shafer.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org