Kentucky school shooter could walk free or stay behind bars

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A Kentucky man who killed three classmates and injured five others at the age of 14 will have to spend the rest of his life in prison with no further opportunity to seek parole, the parole board voted Monday from Kentucky.

Michael Carneal, now 39, told parole board members last week that he would live with his parents and continue his mental health treatment if they agreed to release him. He admitted he still hears voices like the ones that told him to steal a neighbour’s gun and fire it into the crowded hall of Heath High School in 1997. However, Carneal said that with therapy and medication, he had learned to control his behavior.

The board, meeting in Frankfurt, voted 7-0 to deny parole, after deliberating in private for around 30 minutes. Carneal watched the vote on Zoom from the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange. He sat bent over a small chair as Kentucky Parole Board Chairwoman Ladeidra Jones asked each member for their vote.

Jones then told Carneal that “due to the gravity of your crime” he would serve his life sentence in prison.

Carneal said only, “Yes, ma’am” and quickly left.

Missy Jenkins Smith, who had considered Carneal a friend before she was crippled by one of his bullets, said she couldn’t sleep on Sunday night because she was so anxious about the decision. She said she was in shock after hearing it.

“It’s so hard to believe that I don’t have to worry about it anymore,” she said. “I guess I’ll figure that out later. It will sink.

Jenkins Smith watched the hearing from his home in Kirksey with another victim, Kelly Hard Alsip, and their families. Her eldest son, who is 15, feared that if Carneal was released he would come to their home, she said.

Jenkins Smith, Alsip, others injured in the shooting and relatives of those killed spoke to the parole board committee last week. Most expressed a wish that Carneal would spend the rest of his life in prison. Carneal told the panel that there are days when he thinks he deserves to die for what he’s done, but other days he thinks he can still do good in the world.

Jones earlier told Carneal that their “number one charge is to maintain public safety.” She informed him that his inmate file indicated that his mental health prognosis was “poor” and that he had “paranoid thoughts with violent visual images”.

Speaking via video conference from the Kentucky State Reformatory last week, Carneal apologized to his victims, including the entire tight-knit community of Heath, just outside Paducah. Killed on December 1, 1997, 17-year-old Jessica James, 15-year-old Kayce Steger, and 14-year-old Nicole Hadley, who Carneal said was a “very good friend” to him, were killed.

“I’m sorry for what I did,” he said. “I know it’s not going to change things or improve anything, but I’m sorry for what I did.”

Carneal was a freshman when he opened fire on a before-school prayer circle that met in the hall each morning. He was sentenced to the maximum sentence for someone his age at the time, life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

A two-person panel of the parole board considered his case last week but could not reach a unanimous decision, sending the case back to the full board meeting on Monday.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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