Michael Carneal told a probation panel on Tuesday that 25 years ago he heard voices telling him to shoot students at a high school in western Kentucky. He said he still hears those voices today.
Carneal was a 14-year-old freshman when he used a .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol he stole from a neighbor to open fire at Heath High School, near Paducah, Kentucky, as students were gathered for a prayer circle before school. It was one of the first school massacres in the country. Carneal, now 39, is one of the few offenders eligible for parole.
Carneal, who pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murder, attempted murder and burglary, was sentenced to life in prison, but due to his age, he was entitled to parole after serving 25 years. He tried to convince a two-man panel on Tuesday that he should be released.
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His testimony came a day after shooting victims and their relatives told board members in emotionally edited testimony that he must serve the remainder of his life sentence for murdering three girls at Heath High School and injuring five others. students.
But the board could not come to a unanimous decision. Parole Board Chair Ladeidra Jones told Carneal after his testimony that the two members referred his case to the full council, which will meet Monday and will decide whether to grant his parole request, postpone the decision to a later date, or order him. to serve the rest of life behind bars
Carneal apologizes to victims, says he feels partially responsible for subsequent attacks
Wearing a tan prison uniform, Carneal testified from a distance from a hallway of the Kentucky State Reformatory, answering questions about his actions and whether he posed a risk to the public.
Carneal admitted that two days earlier he heard voices in his head telling him to jump down a flight of stairs. But he insisted he could now resist those voices and hadn’t done anything for decades.
Still, board members Ladeidra Jones and Larry Brock expressed strong reservations that it would be safe to release him. Jones noted that Carneal held a clear record at the Kentucky State Reformatory for nine years, but a report from mental health officials there said his prognosis was “poor” and that he was still experiencing “paranoid thoughts with violent images.”
Carneal expressed sympathy for his victims, but showed no apparent emotions. Jones had him list the names of all eight victims, and he acknowledged that most of them were friends of his.
He said he was particularly close to Nicole Hadley, a 14-year-old whom he murdered.
“She was one of my friends and I killed her,” he said.
And he said that another girl who died, 15-year-old Kayce Steger, let him sit next to her on the bus one day when no one else did. “I’ll never forget that,” he said.
Carneal said the voices told him to steal a 22. caliber pistol from his neighbor’s garage three days before the shooting, take it out of his backpack and start firing.
“There’s no excuse for what I’ve done,” he said. “I’m just trying to explain.”
Asked by Jones how he feels now about killing his friend, he said, “I feel terrible for hurting someone.”
But under pressure from both board members, he admitted that at age 14 he knew right from wrong, despite his hallucinations.
He said he takes three drugs a day for his mental illness — he was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic — and would continue to do so if released and placed with his parents, who live in Northern Kentucky. Carneal’s parents have promised to take him in and see to it that he remains under treatment.
“I know I need mental health care,” he said.
When asked if he deserved parole, Carneal said, “I don’t know: sometimes I think I deserve to be killed.”
Asked what he thinks people in the Paducah community think of him, he said, “That I’m a monster.”
“Can you blame them?” Brok asked.
“I understand why people would think that,” he replied.
He said he feels “to some extent responsible” when asked about subsequent school shootings and that after the April 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, he became suicidal and had to be treated in a hospital.
Carneal said he wants to help society and thinks he has something to offer, if only to listen to other people. “I think I can do a lot of good there,” he said.
When asked if he had anything else to say, he said: “I would like to say to my victims and their families that I am sorry for what I have done.”
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Victims, survivors say Carneal sentenced them to life
Survivors and relatives of the victims of the shooting testified remotely in front of panel members on Monday. During the shooting, Carneal killed Nicole Hadley, Kayce Steger and Jessica James, 17, and injured Missy Jenkins Smith, who was paralyzed from the chest, and Hollan Holm, Shelly Schaberg, Kelly Hard Alsip and Craig Keene.
Chuck and Gwen Hadley described the fear of never seeing their daughter graduate from high school or college, or celebrate other milestones, such as having children or getting married.
“Nicole didn’t get a second chance,” Gwen Hadley said. “The shooter must stay where he is.”
Andrew Hadley, Nicole’s younger brother, said he has suffered from anxiety and depression since his sister was shot and struggles to answer when his own daughter, 5, asks when she will meet her Aunt Nicole.
Nicole’s sister, Christina Hadley Ellegood, remembered her as a “kind-hearted, caring and funny girl who was friends with everyone.” Nicole hoped to graduate as a farewell student, attend the University of North Carolina because she adored Michael Jordan, and then join the WNBA. as a physiotherapist.
“My world was turned upside down,” said Christina Hadley Ellegood.
Victims testify:Survivors of school shootings in Kentucky say Michael Carneal has sentenced them to life
Missy Jenkins Smith told the Carneal panel “sentenced me to life in a wheelchair with no possibility of parole.” She said she would never be able to walk through the woods or dance at their weddings with her sons, ages 12 and 15.
She said that if Carneal is released, there are no guarantees that he will be able to live in the outside world and continue to take his meds.
“There are too many ‘what ifs’,” she said.
The only witness Monday who supported Carneal’s release — conditionally — was Hollan Holm, who shot Carneal in the scalp but survived with no lasting injuries. Holm shared how he still gets anxious in crowds or when he hears fireworks and that he has undergone counseling for post-traumatic stress.
But Holm, a lawyer, said Carneal has spent two-thirds of his life behind bars and that if mental health professionals think he can survive outside, he should be given that chance.
“I know that’s not a popular position,” Holm said.
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Follow Andrew Wolfson on Twitter: @adwolfson.