Attorneys spar over public access to filings about competency of alleged Valley Cemetery rapist

May 9—While the competency of alleged Valley Cemetery rapist Amuri Diole remains undecided, lawyers for the prosecutor, the defense and the Union Leader Corp. sparred Monday over how much the public will get to know about Diole's psychiatric state.

His public defenders want a Hillsborough County Superior Court judge to sanction Hillsborough County prosecutor Shawn Sweeney, claiming he deliberately disclosed material about Diole's case in violation of laws governing the secrecy filings about his mental competency to stand trial.

The Union Leader, which has intervenor status in the case, questioned why the company's lawyer was not present when a judge met with prosecutors and Diole's public defenders to consider what filings should be made public.

Meanwhile, Sweeney acknowledged mistakenly filing materials publicly, but they were sealed within 14 minutes of him doing so. A copy provided to the Union Leader, because of its intervenor status, has not been made public.

The maneuvers took place as Superior Court Judge Diane Nicolosi considers the competency of Diole, 28, on charges of rape and criminal threatening involving a woman at the Valley Cemetery in April 2021.

The rape occurred days after Diole had been released from Valley Street jail on a 2018 assault charge. A judge had ruled him incompetent to stand trial, and a 90-day deadline had lapsed for Hillsborough County Attorney John Coughlin to find a psychiatrist and order him committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Public defender Thomas Stonitsch said Sweeney was trying to shift the blame from Coughlin's office to Dr. Mathilde Pelaprat, who has said in both of the 2018 assault case and the Valley Cemetery rape case that Diole is incompetent to stand trial. Stonitsch said Sweeney's actions potentially poisoned a jury pool.

"He (Sweeney) is not a new attorney. He's very aware of the county attorney's obligation for this material," the public defender said.

"Attorney Stonitsch overestimates my devious nature," responded Sweeney, who is Coughlin's highest ranking prosecutor in the Manchester office. Sweeney said he is not as familiar as he should be with the intricacies of filing sealed material through the court system's Odyssey e-filing system.

Nicolosi seemed to side with Sweeney, saying she doesn't see a pattern of misbehavior on his part.

"We're all human, we all make mistakes," the judge said. But she did not issue a decision from the bench.

Meanwhile, Union Leader attorney Gregory V. Sullivan acknowledged that competency reports from experts and filings by lawyers raising competency issues should remain sealed. But he faulted the lawyers for filing other material under seal.

For example, a request to seal a document could be worded so the request is public, giving people an idea of the issue that is being decided. Meanwhile, the actual document can remain sealed, Sullivan said.

The Union Leader has forced the unsealing of several documents in the case, most dealing with scheduling and requests to file papers under seal.