Cane Madden

Cane Madden in court. (WDRB Photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Louisville judge has ruled that hearings and court documents will, for now at least, remain closed in the case of Cane Madden, whose history of walking free after allegedly committing violent crimes prompted a change in state law.

An attorney for WDRB News asked Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Annie O'Connell to allow the public and media access to hearings that will determine Madden's status, including possibly whether the new law applies to him.

Madden's attorneys argued that all criminal charges have been dismissed against him and the case now is about whether he will be involuntarily committed, and he has a right to confidentiality under state law. 

In a hearing Monday, O'Connell said this "has been a challenge for everybody involved in this case, including the court, because this is such a new law to interpret. ... It is new territory for most, if not all of us."

However, she ruled her interpretation of state law is that once the criminal case is dismissed, the hearings on whether Madden will be involuntarily committed are "presumptively confidential."

If the legislature had wanted to make the documents and hearings available to the public under the new law, "it would have done so," O'Connell said.

"I am operating under the assumption based on the plain language of the statute that these proceedings are meant to be confidential."

Still, while the judge said "there is not a compelling reason to open the hearings at this stage," there may be a point in the case where documents and hearings would be made available to the public.

After the hearing, attorney Mike Abate, who represents WDRB News, said the station will "carefully review" O'Connell's written ruling when it is completed and decide whether to appeal.

"It is very clear … the public has a right to see any arguments about the constitutionality and applicability of new law in the case," he said.

He noted that the Kentucky Attorney General's office has joined the case and filed documents, which have been sealed.

"The public has a right no know what the attorney general is saying and ultimately what the judge rules," Abate said.

Madden was charged with the August 2019 beating and rape of a Louisville child until he was found mentally incompetent to stand trial on March 11.

While the charges were dismissed, Madden's future has not been resolved.

In multiple instances in the past, Madden has been found incompetent and failed to meet Kentucky's criteria for involuntary hospitalization -- meaning he repeatedly walked free -- dodging both incarceration and mental health treatment.

But, on April 1, Gov. Andy Beshear signed a bill into law that patches the gap in state law.

What has happened in this case in recent months is not clear, because many of the filings have been sealed or are not available to the public online.

The case against Madden, who has a record of mental illness and has repeatedly been found incompetent to stand trial after past felony arrests, gained statewide attention as it revealed the problem with Kentucky law that allowed him to walk free in past cases. WDRB News highlighted the law's shortcomings after Madden was arrested in 2019.

O'Connell is one of the judges who has ruled Madden incompetent in the past and, before her decision in the child rape case in March, did so most recently in February 2019 in a sexual assault case where Madden was accused of biting a woman's face.

After he was released in February 2019, Madden was arrested again in May for breaking into a business. But a judge dismissed that case because of the same competency concerns and recommended Madden be hospitalized instead.

And again, he was quickly released, starting the cycle anew. Less than 24 hours later, Madden was accused in the rape and assault of the 8-year-old girl, who was playing outside a home on Hale Avenue, near Dixie Highway.

Spurred by the Madden case specifically, lawmakers devised and passed House Bill 310 -- which won wide bipartisan support in both the House and Senate -- to close the gap in state law and prevent similar revolving door episodes from occurring elsewhere in Kentucky.

It was signed by the governor hours before another closed hearing in the Madden case on April 1. According to Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine at the time, the results of that hearing were promising, since his office began the process of applying the new law to Madden.

"Generally speaking, we're glad that we have this tool available to us to protect our community and to ensure that Mr. Madden's due process rights are protected," he said at the time.

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Digital Reporter

Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason can be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.