Man who pleaded guilty to deadly school shooting to get new hearing

By BRETT BARROUQUERE
Associated Press Writer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A high school shooter who killed three
classmates and wounded five others in western Kentucky in 1997 has
been granted a hearing to determine if a mental illness prevented
him from appealing his guilty plea.
U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell said Thursday there's
enough evidence to question whether Michael Adam Carneal, now 26,
was incompetent to plead guilty.
"The record in this case contains evidence that could suggest
that Carneal was not competent to enter a guilty plea, and that his
incompetence also prevented him from timely filing his state court
petition, and in turn, his habeas petition," Russell wrote."
Carneal is serving a life sentence without chance of parole for
at least 25 years for the shootings, which occurred when he was 14.
He is eligible for parole in 2023. He pleaded guilty but mentally
ill to killing three classmates and shooting five others at Heath
High School near Paducah on Dec. 1, 1997.
Russell did not set a date for a hearing.
The school shooting was one of several that shocked the nation
in the late 1990s, including the Columbine High School massacre of
April 1999.
Russell's ruling does not deal directly with Carneal's claim
that he was mentally incompetent to plead guilty in 1998. Instead,
the judge limited his decision to whether Carneal was incompetent
and unable to challenge his ability to knowingly plead guilty.
"This is the first chance we've had to put forth our evidence
for why we believe Mr. Carneal was not competent at the time of his
guilty plea," said his attorney, Tim Arnold of the Kentucky
Department of Public Advocacy. "They understood him to be mentally
ill at the time of the guilty plea, but they didn't understand the
extent of his mental illness."
The Kentucky Attorney General's Office said it hadn't received
the ruling by Thursday afternoon and will review it before
commenting publicly.
Carneal appealed to the federal courts in February 2009, months
after the Kentucky Supreme Court rejected his attempt to withdraw
the guilty plea. Many of the issues Carneal raised in federal court
were either rejected or not considered when the Kentucky Supreme
Court, in a ruling in November 2008, 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.
In his appeal, Carneal said the medication allowed him, for the
first time, to discuss his mental illness with others. Two doctors
re-examined Carneal in 2003 and found he likely was insane at the
time of the plea, Arnold added.
The Kentucky Supreme Court found that there wasn't enough
independent evidence to sustain Carneal's claims and said some of
those claims were raised too long after the guilty plea to be
considered.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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