Judge Kevin Abdoney talks with Public Defender Jane McNeill, right, as Assistant State Attorney Lauren Mikaela Perry listens. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

An attorney for quadruple-homicide suspect Bryan James Riley was in court this week, arguing that a subpoena for his entire medical record from the Veterans Administration and his application for disability should not be entered into evidence, saying it would violate his right to privacy.

“Medical records are granted special protection under the Florida Constitution … Once medical record information is disclosed it cannot be undone,” Public Defender Jane McNeill told Judge Kevin Abdoney.

Instead, she proposed that the potentially sensitive records be provided to the judge only, so he could review them “in-camera” and determine what, if any, information may be used.

Quadruple murder suspect Bryan James Riley is led from the Polk County sheriff’s office on Sunday, September 5, 2021 by Deputy Steve Neil, left, Captain Bart Davis and Detective Brett Bulman. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

Riley is accused of gunning down Justice Gleason, 40, and his girlfriend, Theresa Lanham, 33, along with their infant son and Lanham’s mother as they pleaded for their lives, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

At issue Thursday was that a Polk County Sheriff’s Office detective was included as an email recipient of the medical records and that detective is not under any legal obligation, like the assistant district attorney is, to keep the records private.

“The defense does have a good reason to believe that Mr. Riley’s entire service record, essentially subpoenaed, will contain a significant number of medical records,” McNeill said. “And these would be records that not only pertain to any mental health or brain injury or PTSD, or any of those sorts of issues, but applied will contain records regarding physical and other sorts of conditions as well.”

Abdoney agreed with the defense and assistant state attorney Lauren Mikaela Perry said she would reissue the subpoena without the detective as a recipient.

Insanity defense planned

McNeill again pushed using the insanity defense on Thursday, arguing Riley was insane on September 5, 2021, when he killed a father, his girlfriend, their 3-month-old son, and the woman’s mother during a home-invasion attack in north Lakeland.

“At the time of the offense, (Riley) suffered from a mental infirmity, disease, or defect, to wit: unspecified schizophrenia or other psychotic disorder;” McNeill has written in the legal notice confirming their intent, “and because of this condition, he did not know what he was doing or its consequences, or although he knew what he was doing and its consequences, he did not know that what he was doing was wrong.”

Riley, 34, was not in court Thursday as he had been on Arpil 4.

Detectives said Riley stopped at the rural North Lakeland home on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 4, 2021, as Gleason and his 11-year-old daughter mowed the lawn. He told them he was looking for a girl named “Amber.” He said he had been directed by God to rescue Amber from sex trafficking. No one named Amber was at the home and Gleason ordered him to leave or he would call law enforcement. Riley replied, “You don’t need to call the cops because I’m the cops for God,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a press conference. Gleason did call 911, but deputies weren’t able to find Riley in the area.

He returned to the home during the predawn hours of Sept. 5, 2021. One neighbor said he heard knocking on his back sliding-glass door, which woke him and his family.  They were afraid and didn’t answer. Within half an hour, they heard multiple gunshots coming from the Lanham family compound, situated on several acres behind them, and called 9-1-1.

Riley had entered the home and found Gleason, Lanham, the baby and the 11-year-old in a bathroom, shooting them. Deputies found Lanham’s body still  holding the dead baby.

Riley told deputies the victims pleaded for their lives, but he shot them anyway, court records show. Then he pulled the 11-year-old girl into the living room, demanding to know where Amber was. When she told him no one named Amber lived there, he shot her multiple times, court records show. She played dead.

Riley then went to another home on the property and shot 62-year-old Cathy Delgado, who was hiding in a closet.

According to an article in The Ledger, the girl’s recorded statements to an investigator were called into question earlier this month, with McNeill wondering if the child’s mother encouraging her to ask for a second interview was an attempt at improper influence. In addition the girl mixed up the order in which her family members were shot in the two different statements.

Perry said her arguments on April 4 that the girl is a credible witness still stand.

“I would just simply add that the disclosure ends with the child telling the witness, ‘I’m going to say the truth.’” Perry told the judge. “So I think that supports the state’s arguments from the prior hearing.”

Military-style ambush

Quadruple Murder Suspect Bryan James Riley | Courtesy Polk County Jail

According to Judd, Riley worked security for ESS Global Corporation after serving for four years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010. He was honorably discharged and did another three years in the reserves.

During what officials called his military-style ambush on the family, Riley is also accused of trying to gun down multiple law enforcement officers.

Deputies arrived at the home within minutes after neighbors reported hearing gunfire. Riley, wearing body armor and heavily armed, including an AR-15 military-style assault rifle, opened fire on them, reports show.

A short time later, Riley came around from the back of the house to surrender, and deputies took him into custody. According to arrest reports, Riley admitted to the killings, telling deputies that voices and God had told him to do it. Deputies asked him why he’d shot the infant. “Because I’m a sick guy,” he responded, according to his arrest affidavit. “I want to confess to all of it and be sent to jail.”

The 11-year-old girl was rescued when deputies arrived and underwent extensive treatment for multiple gunshot wounds at Tampa General Hospital.

Her family members on Thursday said she is doing well, but declined to make any comments.

Polk County Sheriff’s detectives reported finding no connection between Riley, who lived in Brandon at the time, and the Lakeland family, and stated that Riley said he didn’t know the family.

Death penalty at issue

While the state is seeking the death penalty in the case – one of the worst mass murders in Polk County history – his defense insists he was insane at the time of the crime. They have argued he might have known what he was doing, but didn’t understand the consequences.

Assistant State Attorney Paul Wallace, who has been prosecuting first-degree murder cases in the 10th Judicial Circuit of Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties for 43 years, said use of the insanity defense remains rare.

“It doesn’t happen often,” he said, “and in those cases that have gone to trial, juries haven’t been receptive to it.”

Wallace recalled six local cases that went to trial with an insanity defense, and all of them ended in conviction. He said there have been cases when the state’s mental health experts have agreed with the defense team that a suspect was legally not guilty by reason of insanity, and the defendant would remain under the court’s jurisdiction while undergoing treatment in a psychiatric hospital.

“The judge retains control,” Wallace said, “and if the judge decides he’s a danger to himself or others, he will remain locked up.”

Riley’s fiancee told detectives that he’d been acting strangely in the days before the killings after working security at an Orlando church, and told her the night before the shootings that God had instructed him to intervene with a girl named Amber, who was going to commit suicide. The fiancee said she tried to reason with him, but he became upset and locked himself in a room. When she awoke early the next morning, he was gone and GPS showed him at the north Lakeland home near Lake Gibson High School, according to his arrest affidavit.

On Thursday, Perry said she is requesting all of Riley’s medical records, including his application for disability, because she is in a position of having to “prove a negative,” that Riley was not insane when he killed the family.

“What we’re looking at is whether or not the state has a sufficient nexus or reason to override the defendant’s right to privacy as recognized in the Constitution,” Perry said. “It is very obvious from what we received from the VA, this cannot be all of his medical records because we know that he has the 10% PTSD, but we don’t ever see the doctor that saw him, treated him, diagnosed him with that.  However, someone had to for there to be a finding of that disability.”

Perry said that Riley could have seen a private physician, which is why the record is not turning up in the VA file they currently have on him.

“So the reasons the state is subpoenaing his application on all supporting documents is to try to get to the identity, base of treatment, facilities for which we could find these records related to the PTSD,” Perry said. “The defense is asserting that he is not guilty by reason of insanity. And so the state is tasked with showing that he is not insane and your honor, that not only includes finding treatment for mental health or lack thereof, to show there’s no history to support his assertion that he had a mental health problem at the time the crime was committed.”

Bibles, guns, knives and hypodermic needles

Since the killings, deputies have pored through evidence collected at the Lakeland scene and Riley’s home in Brandon, according to court records. At his home, they found a large number of small vials containing testosterone, along with a cache of used hypodermic needles. They also found a padlocked room that deputies reported was “solely utilized by the suspect to store his various firearms, ammunition and other items,” records show. There were no court records detailing what was found in that room.

Court records also listed items found in Riley’s black Ford F-150 pickup truck at the scene of the murders: a black Bible with Riley’s name imprinted on it, a Bible Promises book, a Kurt Owens Ministry letter, a bulletproof vest, two knives and a hatchet in separate sheaths, multiple glow sticks, two handguns and several rounds of ammunition, among other items, court records show.

Another truck that belonged to Gleason was set ablaze during the melee – Riley explained to investigators he was trying to cut off an escape route for the family.  He also barricaded the front door from the outside with a pile of furniture, which was still visible a day after the shooting.

Riley, who had been shot by law enforcement during the attack, was taken to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center for treatment. A nurse told officers that she asked Riley if he abused illegal drugs and he said “I do them all.” Another nurse told officers that Riley said he “did meth.”

Jacob Orr, an official with the State’s Attorney’s Office, was processing a request Thursday for results of Riley’s blood test the day of the shooting to see if it had come back positive for methamphetamine or any other drug.

Prosecutors have charged Riley with four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, one count each of kidnapping of a child under 13 while committing aggravated child abuse, aggravated child abuse by aggravated battery, arson and attempted first-degree murder, two counts of armed burglary, four counts of firing on a Sheriff’s Office helicopter and one count of fatally shooting the family’s dog.

The next hearing in the case will be April 21 at 1 p.m.

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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