Ky shooter, Carneal, asks judge to overturn sentence

Ky shooter, Carneal, asks judge to overturn sentence

Ky shooter, Carneal, asks judge to overturn sentence


Posted on August 15, 2009 at 6:41 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 13 at 6:18 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- A high school shooter who killed three classmates and wounded five others in western Kentucky has asked a federal judge to throw out his conviction and sentence, saying he was insane when the shootings occurred.

Michael Adam Carneal, 25, filed the petition Thursday in U.S. District Court in Paducah.

Carneal claims doctors did not fully diagnose the extent of his mental illness when he entered a plea of guilty, but mentally ill to killing three classmates and shooting five others Dec. 1, 1997, at Heath High School near Paducah.

Carneal is serving a sentence of life without the chance of parole for at least 25 years for the shootings, which occurred when he was 14. He is eligible for parole in 2023.

The case was one of seven school shootings that shocked the nation in the late 1990s, including the Columbine High School massacre of April 1999.

Public defenders David Harshaw and Tim Arnold wrote that Carneal should have been diagnosed as insane at the time of the shootings, a finding his attorneys say would render his plea and sentence unconstitutional.

His attorneys cited a handful of rulings nationwide in which federal courts found a person's mental incapacitation rendered them innocent of a crime they were charged with.

"Since sometime prior to this offense, Michael Carneal has suffered from hallucinations," Arnold told The Associated Press on Thursday. "Throughout his case, Michael could not assist his counsel in his defense because Michael believed that if he told his lawyer about his hallucinations, he would be killed."

Missy Jenkins Smith, who survived the shooting but remains paralyzed from the waist down, expressed dismay over Carneal's petition.

"I'm still wishing all this was over," said Jenkins, a school counselor in Murray, Ky. Speaking of Carneal, she added that "he'll have to deal with the consequences of his actions."

Allison Gardner Martin, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Attorney General's office, said the office will oppose Carneal's request.

"It doesn't change the facts of the case: three people are dead and five other were injured by him," Martin said, adding no new issues have been raised.

Many of the issues Carneal raised in federal court were either rejected or not considered when the Kentucky Supreme Court, in a ruling last November, upheld the guilty plea and sentence.

Carneal argued then and now that he was unable to reveal that he was hearing voices at the time of the shooting and guilty plea because of mental illness. Since the guilty plea, Arnold said, Carneal has received more powerful medication, allowing him to discuss the hallucinations without paranoid delusions.

Two doctors re-examined Carneal in 2003 and found that he likely was insane at the time of the plea, Arnold said. The Kentucky Supreme Court found that there wasn't enough independent evidence to sustain Carneal's claims and that some of those claims were raised too long after the guilty plea to be considered.

In 1997, Carneal brought a gun to school on the first day after Thanksgiving break. He turned the gun on a group of students holding a prayer meeting, killing 14-year-old Nicole Hadley, 17-year-old Jessica James and 15-year-old Kayce Steger.

Those wounded with Smith were 17-year-old Shelley Schaberg, 16-year-old Kelly Hard, 14-year-old Hollan Holm and 15-year-old Craig Keene.

Arnold said if Carneal's conviction is overturned, he'll likely spend much of his life in a mental facility.

"Michael faces a lifetime of treatment as a result of his mental condition," Arnold said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)