Va. panel obtains gunman's records

RICHMOND, Va."" A state panel investigating the Virginia Tech shootings obtained a tape recording and transcripts of gunman Seung-Hui Cho's mental health hearing by court order Tuesday.

Gerald W. Massengill, the former state police superintendent who chairs the panel, said two members will listen to the tape and review the written records and report to the full panel at its next meeting July 18.

The panel Gov. Timothy M. Kaine appointed to investigate the April 16 shootings had been stymied in its efforts to obtain Cho's mental health and education records because of state and federal privacy laws.

Kaine signed an executive order Monday clarifying the powers of the eight-member panel and instructing the university and other public institutions to provide it with Cho's academic and health records to the extent allowed by law.

Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said privacy laws still could impede the panel, but the executive order "gives them the legal authority to go into the court system and argue for access."

With the executive order in hand, the panel's lawyers were able to get Montgomery County General District Court Judge Randal J. Duncan to grant a motion Tuesday to release the audio tape and records.

In the court order, Duncan said the panel "was clothed with authority for appropriate oversight of the Virginia Mental Health Care System" by the governor's directive.

A special justice who conducted a hearing on Dec. 14, 2005, ruled Cho was a danger to himself, but not others, and ordered him to get outpatient treatment. There has been no indication that Cho, who killed 32 people before committing suicide, ever received the treatment.

Virginia Tech has already given Cho's school counseling records to the panel after getting permission from Cho's family. The panel also wants Cho's college and high school scholastic records.

Kaine's executive order allows the panel to ask his office or the Virginia Crime Commission to use their subpoena powers to obtain records. He said the materials will be classified as governor's "working papers," which are exempt from the state's open-records law.

Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said he had not yet spoken with the university's lawyers about how the school will respond to Kaine's directive.

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