CINCINNATI (AP) – A man who killed three of his classmates at a Kentucky High School in 1997 is fighting to take back his guilty plea and get a trial, arguing that his schizophrenia made him incompetent and unable to accept responsibility for the crime.
Four days after the 15-year anniversary of the shooting, a three-judge panel with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati heard arguments from convicted shooter Michael Carneal’s attorney and the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office. The killings, more than two years before the fatal attack at Columbine High School in Colorado, garnered national attention at a time when mass school shootings were uncommon.
Carneal’s attorney, Timothy Arnold, argued that his client’s appeal of his guilty plea was timely and should be allowed to proceed. The attorney general’s office countered by saying that the appeal came too late in the process and that Carneal’s conviction and life sentence should stand.
If the panel finds that the appeal was timely, the case could be sent back to a lower court judge to consider whether Carneal should be allowed to take back his guilty plea. The panel could take months to issue a decision.
Carneal, 29, opened fire on a Dec. 1, 1997, school prayer meeting in Paducah, Ky., killing 17-year-old Jessica James, 15-year-old Kayce Steger and 14-year-old Nicole Hadley. Five others were wounded.
It came two months after a school shooting in Pearl, Miss., that killed three and injured seven. Then on April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s attack at Columbine killed 12 students, a teacher and themselves.
Arnold said in an interview that Carneal, who was a 14-year-old freshman at the time, was schizophrenic and having delusions when he agreed to plead guilty but mentally ill to murder and attempted murder charges.
Arnold said that Carneal didn’t reveal that he had been hallucinating until years later and wasn’t competent enough work on an appeal of his guilty plea until late 2003. The appeal was filed in June of 2004.
Kentucky Assistant Attorney General Ken Riggs argued that Carneal took far too long to file his appeal, saying that he proved he had achieved a working level of competency in 2002 in the form of letters to his psychologist and others. Riggs argues the appeal should have been filed that year.
“Mr. Carneal knew full well that he had a right to file an appeal if he wanted one,” Riggs said, adding that Carneal wrote about complex legal theories and discussed his case in the letters.
“This is not the mind of a person who is so far removed from reality that he couldn’t put pen to paper and articulate the fact that, `Hey, there’s something wrong with the way my case was handled, my attorney was ineffective, and maybe I was insane at the time but otherwise not criminally responsible,'” he said.
Riggs emphasized to the judges the seriousness of the decision before them.
“People died when Mr. Carneal walked into his high school and single-handedly opened fire,” he said.
Last year, Carneal testified about his hallucinations and schizophrenia, saying that he was commanded to shoot his fellow students by delusions in the form of voices he called “the danes.”
He said that he didn’t remember pulling the trigger and only realized what he had done when he saw one of the teens on the ground bleeding.
“I still have nightmares about it,” he testified. “I did these things to all these people. I wish I could take it back, but I don’t know how.”
Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Skin Cancer in Arizona: Stats, facts and new immunotherapy drugs making strides
- Caring Crisis: Rising tide In Alzheimer’s disease leads to shortage of caregivers
- Distracted walking injuries end up not so funny
- Scary situations: 5 quick tips before you let a contractor in your home
- Four ways telemedicine is changing the health care industry
- 5 mistakes homeowners make in the spring
- Three rivers run through it: Exploring Arizona's waterways
- Smart home basics: things you need to know to get started
- 5 Surprising things causing back pain
- Arizona agriculture is a $17.1B industry
- Timeline: Arizona's roots in brewing history
- 5 reasons to love the D-backs this season
- Tips for taking your home entertainment experience to the backyard
- Tech-related injuries your parents never experienced
- Workers comp: Signs your co-worker could be a fraud
- Who's the real founder of America's pastime?
- Epidemic rising? What you need to know about Alzheimer's in Arizona
- 5 unforgettable Wooden Award winners
- Family and hard work are keys to success of modern dairy farmers
- Genetic testing could hold answers for colon cancer survival
- Cold beers and baseball: A beer lover's guide to Spring Training
- Telecommuting: 5 tips to make it work for employers and employees
- See how top CFOs feel about economic growth in the Valley
- Migraine myths that keep patients from effective treatments
- Here’s why Gaydos went tankless with his water heater
- Bocce ball and basketball: How you can help Arizona's Special Olympics athletes
- Tips on building the best wine room in Arizona
- Avoid the nightmare: 6 tips to choose a great contractor
- Breast cancer: Improved testing and treatments means more survivors
- Failed back surgery: New hope for patients living in pain