Attorney gets probation, inpatient treatment for arrest
RINGGOLD, Ga. — A judge Friday sentenced a Chattanooga lawyer to 20 years probation and mental health treatment after finding him guilty of breaking into an elderly couple’s home in 2016 and threatening to kill them.
Following a bench trial, Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Ralph Van Pelt Jr. found Matthew Jack Fitzharris “guilty but mentally ill” of criminal damage to property in the second degree, simple assault, and two counts each of aggravated assault, entering an automobile and terroristic threats.
Van Pelt sentenced Fitzharris, a former attorney in Hamilton County who got his law degree in 2013, to 20 years’ probation and said he must enter an inpatient mental health treatment facility and comply with all doctors’ orders, Senior Assistant District Attorney Alan Norton said. Fitzharris also received credit for the two years and three months that he’s either served in jail or mental health facilities.
On July 12, 2016, police said, Fitzharris walked into a couple’s home off Cloud Springs Road around 11 p.m., uninvited and carrying a blanket. After the surprised homeowners asked him to go, Fitzharris initially refused, left when the couple grabbed their gun and then returned. During the second visit, police said, Fitzharris ran out the back door, jumped on the roof, threw potted plants at them and threatened to kill them. That resulted in the husband, a former Marine, shooting him twice in the arm in self defense, records show. Early into the case, Fitzharris was found “not to be competent” enough to understand what was happening. At a Sept. 8 hearing, he took the witness stand and claimed “a whole lot of attorneys are out to hurt me,” including Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston in Tennessee. Pinkston’s office responded that the prosecutor didn’t know Fitzharris.
After that, the court ordered Fitzharris to complete a 90-day evaluation at the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities to find a recommended treatment.
At Friday’s trial, Fitzharris’ defense lawyer, McCracken Poston, said he didn’t cross examine any witnesses; he simply apologized to the witness on Fitzharris’ behalf. Fitzharris didn’t testify, but also apologized to the family and neighbors.
From here, Fitzharris’ family, from Ohio, will find him a treatment center. Fitzharris is banished from the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, which includes Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Walker counties, and he has also agreed not to live in Hamilton County anymore, Poston said.
Poston said he and prosecutor Norton argued probation and inpatient treatment was an appropriate sentence.
“We had a joint, kumbaya moment,” Poston said. “And the judge agreed to do it that way.”
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.
Matthew Jack Fitzharris