Ohio school shooter to be tried as an adult

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CHARDON, Ohio -- Shivering and wet, Thomas "T.J." Lane minced no words this winter when a sheriff's deputy asked him why he was sitting on the side of the road about a mile from the high school where six teenagers had just been shot.

"[I] just killed a bunch of people," a deputy quoted T.J. as saying.

The 17-year-old had been charged as a juvenile with murder, attempted murder and assault in the Feb. 27 shooting at Chardon High School that left three students dead and three wounded.

On Thursday, a judge ruled that T.J. should be held without bond and tried in an adult court, beginning a new round of legal proceedings for the teenager who exhibits multiple signs of mental illness.

If convicted, he could face life imprisonment. Because he is under 18, he would not face the death penalty.

The judge's decision came after nearly two hours of testimony that provided new details about T.J.'s mental state following the shooting.

Geauga County Sheriff's Deputy Jon Bilicic found T.J. sitting on the snow-covered ground alongside Woodin Road, clad in a gray shirt with the word "killer," about a mile north of the school. It was about an hour after officials received the first calls for shots fired.

T.J. said, "I shot people" and "I don't know why," the deputy testified. Pressed again for a motive, T.J. said, "I don't really understand myself."

The tall, lanky boy told the deputy he was not depressed, was not suicidal, was not using drugs or alcohol and was not angry with anyone.

"I really don't get angry," T.J. said, according to the deputy's testimony. "I have no problems with people. They don't even talk to me."

Asked how long he had been planning the shooting, T.J. said "not long at all," which he later qualified as "about four weeks." He told the deputy he took a .22-caliber pistol from his uncle's home the night before the shooting and aimed at the victim's heads because "he didn't want anybody to suffer," the deputy said.

The deputy's testimony, which prosecutors used as evidence that the act had been premeditated, was later followed by additional remarks from Chardon police Officer Matt DeLisa, the first responder to enter the school.

T.J. sat silently, staring down or occasionally at the witnesses, while Officer DeLisa described walking into the front door, making a left and finding three students -- Daniel Parmertor, 16, Russell King Jr., 17, and Demetrius Hewlin, 16 -- all lying immobile next to a cafeteria table.

"It was bloody," the officer said, providing no other details.

All three boys would later die from their gunshot wounds.

Another boy, Nick Walczak, 16 at the time, was shot in the back and neck and dragged from a hallway into a classroom by a teacher. Around town, residents are planning a golf tournament to help raise money for his extensive rehabilitation.

Two other students were wounded. Joy Rickers, 18, was shot in the buttocks and police later learned that another boy, Nate Mueller, was grazed in the ear by a bullet at some point during the fracas.

Prosecutors also played video of surveillance footage taken from the cafeteria and a hallway on the day of the shooting, but they and defense attorneys asked that the public not be allowed to view the tapes.

Several media outlets protested the request, but the judge ruled that they should be placed under seal out of concern they would "endanger the fairness" of the trial. He also placed everyone who saw the footage under a gag order.

Geauga County prosecutor David Joyce argued in his closing arguments that the surveillance video, combined with testimony that T.J. intentionally shot his targets in the head to reduce their suffering, provided enough evidence that he should be held for trial and bound over to the adult court system.

Ohio law requires that 16- and 17-year-olds accused of murder be moved to the adult court system if a juvenile court judge finds there is enough evidence to warrant a trial.

"I have no discretion," the judge later said, while ordering T.J. to move to the adult court system. His case will now go before a grand jury, possibly as early as next week.

Still, T.J.'s defense attorneys argued that he should remain in the juvenile court system, which they thought might provide more adequate treatment for his mental health problems.

T.J. closed his eyes and clenched his hands as defense attorney Mark DeVan reminded the court room that Phillip Resnick, a Case Western Reserve University psychiatry professor, found during a mental evaluation that T.J. suffers from "psychosis not otherwise specified," meaning that his symptoms do not easily fit the definition of the most commonly diagnosed mental health problems.

The psychiatrist determined that T.J. has a history of depression, emotional flattening and "involuntary fantasies that intrude themselves on his mind."

The shooting at Chardon High School "is a tragic event," said Mr. DeVan. "This should have never happened. Obviously, this is the product of a mental defect."


Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil


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