At­tor­ney gets pro­ba­tion, in­pa­tient treat­ment for ar­rest

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY ZACK PETER­SON STAFF WRITER

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 zpeter­son@times­freep­ or 423-757-6347. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @za­ck­peter­son918.

Matthew Jack Fitzhar­ris

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