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April 4, 2014

"Should T.J. Lane's 3 life sentences get another look from the appellate court?"

TJ laneThe title of this post is the question in the headline of this local editorial discussion of a high-profile school shooter who might be the type of juvenile murderer that even the US Supreme Court would conclude can be given a juvenile LWOP sentence.  Here are a few excerpts:

The lawyer for Chardon High School shooter T.J. Lane wants an appellate court to overturn Lane's three consecutive life sentences for the 2012 shootings in which three students died and three were wounded on the grounds that the sentencing judge didn't explicitly consider Lane's age — 17 at the time of the crime — as a mitigating factor in the sentencing. A recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling in another case said a judge must specifically address the age of a juvenile defendant when sentencing a youth to life without parole. Geauga County prosecutors say the appeal is frivolous because Geauga County Common Pleas Judge David Fuhry was well aware of Lane's age throughout the proceedings and that his age also featured prominently in the many reports on T.J. Lane's psychological state and life going back to kindergarten that Fuhry had before him at sentencing.

Does Lane's lawyer raise a valid point or should the three life sentences stand?  Editorial board members share their thoughts on this case...

Thomas Suddes, editorial writer: The appeal of T.J. Lane's sentencing is a perfect example of why so many Ohioans, like Charles Dickens' Mr. Bumble, think "the law is a ass  — a idiot." First, Lane pleaded guilty to killing three students, and wounding three others, in Chardon High School's cafeteria.  His guilty plea is a fact. There is no question about his guilt, no doubt his guilty plea was voluntary.  Those, too, are facts.  Second, Lane's sentence — three consecutive life terms in prison without parole — was, is, eminently just. Third, unless an Ohioan was on Mars, virtually everyone who knew of the Chardon murders, and just about everybody in Ohio did know about them, also knew that Lane was 17 when he embarked on his homicidal rampage....

The facts of the sentencing that resulted from the Cincinnati case are whatever those facts are.  But no rational bystander can claim that Fuhry was unaware of, or failed to take into account, Lane's age when he murdered.  Everyone charged with a crime is entitled to a vigorous legal defense, but given the facts of the Lane case, and his guilty plea, this appeal represents the privileging of form over substance.  In Lane's case, justice was done. And justice was seen to be done.  And justice requires the dismissal of this appeal.

Kevin O'Brien, deputy editorial page editor, The Plain Dealer:  Age is an arbitrary measure that often comes into play in the law.  People under 21 cannot legally consume alcohol — a rule made based on the supposition that allowing otherwise would be detrimental to social order.  T.J. Lane’s lawyer is making a general argument about 17-year-olds that doesn’t fit the specifics of his client’s case.  Lane knew what he was doing in the school cafeteria, and he certainly was aware that it was wrong.  He knew what he was doing at his sentencing hearing, when he wore his disgustingly boastful T-shirt.  He is a cowardly assassin who, far from showing any remorse, has gone out of his way to compound the emotional hurt to his victims’ loved ones.   He is right where he belongs, and three consecutive life sentences are perfectly appropriate.

Elizabeth Sullivan, opinion director, Northeast Ohio Media Group: Judges should consider a young offender's age when sentencing someone to life in prison without any possibility of parole.  The Ohio Supreme Court is absolutely right about that, and if any judge fails to do so, he or she should be challenged on it.  But it seems the most trivial of technicalities to suggest that Judge David Fuhry in Geauga County didn't consider T.J. Lane's age simply because he didn't explicitly reference it in his sentencing decision.  Lane's age was a factor throughout this case, whether or not the judge spoke to it during sentencing. That's why this appeal is likely going nowhere.  And if the appellate court takes a second look, what then?  Two consecutive life terms instead of three?  All the data before the judge at the time of sentencing pointed to the fact that T.J. Lane, a clearly disturbed and dangerous young man, should be locked up for life.

Christopher Evans, editorial writer, Northeast Ohio Media Group: The cold-blooded executions of three Chardon High School students and the wounding of three others, the lack of remorse and the contempt for the families, the community and the justice system made Lane ageless. He wasn't 17. He was psycho. The smirk, the handwritten "Killer" T-shirt — which mirrored the one he wore when he opened fire in the school cafeteria — and his offensive comments to the packed courthouse all speak to that. Lane earned every minute of those three life sentences for the three lives he took.  But we're better than T.J. Lane.  Reduce his sentence to two life sentences without parole.  I can live with that.

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April 4, 2014 at 09:18 AM | Permalink

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Comments

If not for the ridiculous Roper decision, we could have given this monster what he deserves.

Funny how not a single commentator--even the pro-defense ones--believes that this appeal has any merit.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Apr 4, 2014 1:56:03 PM

Just so everyone can see what a misunderstood, rehabilitatable kid this is, here's his 10-second statement during sentencing.

http://www.wkyc.com/video/2238124925001/1/Graphic-video-TJ-Lanes-statement-at-sentencing

Posted by: Res ipsa | Apr 4, 2014 1:59:56 PM

// "The death penalty is one of the fundamentally most stupid ideas that this world continues to entertain.
It's something I've felt very strongly about since childhood … Crime is a grey area." \\

Roper is only ridiculous to those who modestly engage in logical cogitation, informed by
absolute truths.

For others who highhandedly reject notions of Hell and evil, punishment and Biblical justice, both Lane above and Ward below have
earned only free housing and board, free also from experiencing just punishment for the massive pain which they inflicted.

| Cops: Man jailed because he "felt like killing" kills again |

CBS affiliate KPHO PHOENIX - An Arizona man who reportedly told police he killed his 12-year-old half brother earlier this month because he
"just felt like killing" is now accused of fatally stabbing a jail cellmate, too.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office says 27-year-old Andrew Ward, who was already behind bars, was re-arrested and booked for the
Wednesday-night killing of his cellmate, Douglas Walker.
The Sheriff's Office says Ward immediately admitted to detectives that he had choked and beaten Walker, adding, "Ward told sheriff's
detectives that he had no regrets for the attack."

Authorities say Walker, 33, was stabbed in the eyes and throat, and that he was also beaten and his breathing passages were obstructed by a plastic bag.

Andrew Ward previously pleaded not guilty in the March 12 killing of his half brother Austin Tapio. ... The half brother had multiple stab wounds.
Police said when asked why he killed the boy, Ward said, "Honestly, I just felt like killing."

-- On the stupidity of the death penalty by Councillor Lib. Dem. Neil, cotham.blogspot.com/2011/08/on-stupidity-of-death-penalty.html

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 4, 2014 3:35:05 PM

First, I assume the Judge had discretion to consider a lower sentence because of his age? No one has explicitly said that, but it seems implicit from the fact that they're arguing he probably did consider the age. I think that makes a huge difference (if he felt his hands were tied, the defendant is entitled to reconsideration based on current case law).

Assuming the Judge could have considered the defendant's age and it could have resulted in a different result and given the possibility that he did not, given the ambiguous record, why not simply remand to the trial Judge to give him the opportunity to state either a) He did consider age at the time of his original sentencing or b) He did not consider age at the time, but, if he had, it would not have changed his sentence. If a or b are true, they don't even have to docket the case for argument. It's only if the Judge did not consider it and the Judge thinks it might affect his decision that they even need to re-argue sentencing.

This strikes me as a really easy fix that's not worth fighting too much about.

Posted by: Erik M | Apr 4, 2014 3:58:19 PM

Rep Ipsa.

I think it has merit, FWIW. In fact, I think it is an easy win.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 4, 2014 4:01:36 PM

I don't Daniel. he killed 3 people in a school. there are no midigating factors. good riddance. Personally I would have no problem simply blowing his empty head off.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 4, 2014 4:14:03 PM

Everyone points out this case is one of those in which the "heinious crime exception to the Constitution" should apply.
Instead, this could be an important supervisory case to make sure Ohio trial judges follow the law and consider what superior courts say they are required to consider.
A court speaks through its record and if the record doesn't show consideration of a required factor then reverse and remand for a new sentencing hearing. Then the judge can make explicit findings.
In this case Lane ain't going nowhere. I believe the life sentences can and will be affirmed once the judge makes the required findings.
The appearance of justice is just important in cases of overwhelming guilt as it is important in close cases. That is one of the reasons why Themis ("Lady Justice")is blind.

Posted by: ? | Apr 4, 2014 8:15:34 PM

@Rodsmith

You confuse the merits of his appeal with the merits of his sentence. His appeal is based upon a procedural quibble, one which I think is correct. So if the supreme court in Ohio has any sense it will grant the appeal, remand it back to the judge to fix the error, and then the judge will sentence him to the exact same sentence all over again, this time using the proper procedure.

Too formalist for some? I think formalism matters. That's all.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 4, 2014 9:09:32 PM

I'm more concernted with results as apposed to procedure. sorry he's a 3 time murderer. he's lucky he's getting LWOP as apposed to summary execution. take the gift and shut up!

besides just who's paying for all those appeals and lawyers? US! how. we're broke and have been broke for YEARS.

we have more important things to spend limited funds than this stupidity.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 5, 2014 1:01:33 AM

The conduct of the lawyers in this case, including those on the Supreme Court, through their Miller and Graham decisions shows something quite plainly. The profession is a manifestation of pure evil. Its hierarchy deserves and needs to be arrested, tried, and executed summarily. They are barely human.

All defense arguments in the article and in the comments are pretextual, self-dealing, thinly veiled arguments for worthless lawyer make work. Their bad faith is morally disgusting, fully justifies violence against them. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 5, 2014 2:50:25 AM

Daniel--

The problem I have with Lane's position is threefold: (1) the trial judge was well aware of Lane's youth (he was being tried as an adult, after all), (2) Lane had expressed no remorse whatsoever, and was purely evil. As a result, the judge said that no punishment was severe enough for what he did, and (3) this is a paradigm case where LWOP for a juvenile is completely appropriate.

I just don't see the difference between an explicit consideration of age rather than the implicit consideration that had to have occurred here. To me it's form over substance. The characteristics of the offender and the offense itself are so far beyond the pale of rehabilitation that LWOP is not only appropriate, but a gift.

Not to mention, the trial judge is just going to impose the same sentence again anyways.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Apr 5, 2014 11:34:35 AM

It's simply a difference in outlook. I take the long view and what might be clear in the present may not be so clear in the future. A sentence and/or an opinion is not merely a moral or legal judgement it is a historical document. I'm a stickler for dotting i's and crossing t's because even though it may not make any practical sense to those in the heat of battle and it may add some additional cost now it leaves a clear and precise record for future generations. Fifty years from now most people aren't going to bother to read the briefs--assuming they can still locate them--but the official record will be preserved. So that official record should reflect what was officially done and in its present state it does not.

BTW--for the record--I've long felt that there needs to be some kind of special appeal that takes care of these administrative niceties that are separate and distinct from an appeal on the merits. But that is not the way the system is structured.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 5, 2014 3:13:18 PM

Res Ipsa. If you think the Judge is just going to impose the same sentence again, what's the big deal here. The only argument besides "he should have gotten worse than the Constitution allows" I've seen is that it'll take time and money. Both strike as de minimis. Like I pointed out above, your argument seems to be that the Judge considered it anyway. In that case, all he has to do is certify that he already considered it. If not, it still doesn't take that much time to actually consider it. If he asks for briefs or argument on how to consider it (meaning, he didn't follow the rules of the Ohio Supreme Court), it would still likely be a quicker, cheaper option than the levels of appeals and habeas that would likely result otherwise. You can give it AEDPA bulletproofing if he considers it, for example.

The only other fear that I'm seeing seems to be a fear that the Judge didn't consider it and that it would influence his decision. Certainly, for those who think LWOP is too lenient, this would be a concern. But it certainly can't be a concern based in the law, which requires the Judge to consider it and give leniency if appropriate. In other words, in this scenario, the fear is of a correct result of the law. I can't imagine that's a justifiable fear.

Posted by: Erik M | Apr 5, 2014 4:02:36 PM

Erik M --

"In other words, in this scenario, the fear is of a correct result of the law. I can't imagine that's a justifiable fear."

But what's a "correct result of law" -- for example, the death penalty imposed on Timothy McVeigh -- was never considered by abolitionists to be adequate grounds to discontinue their contrary argument.

I agree with Res ipsa. T.J. Lane is a walking example of why Roper was incorrectly decided.

Lane is so unbelievably cold-blooded that he's one of those who has a higher than average chance of killing again while in prison. Of course, the young and slender Mr. Lane also has a higher than average chance of various other experiences in prison. I do not condone violent crime of any kind or description -- indeed I prosecuted it, unlike almost everyone else on this board -- but I won't be losing any sleep over Mr. Lane's future difficulties.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 5, 2014 4:40:42 PM

I'm talking about the law as it is. I've made it clear I don't support the death penalty. But I've also made it clear that the death penalty is the law. I wouldn't support illegal acts to stop the death penalty (to use an extreme example, attacking and destroying supplies of the chemicals used in lethal injection). I'm not sure why anyone else should support not following the law when it comes to a sentence. If the law says a Judge has to consider the defendant's age, have him consider the defendant's age. Otherwise, the sentence is ultra vires. It has no more lawful authority than the example I previously gave.

Respect for the rule of law is bigger than either of our positions on the death penalty, punishment of juveniles, etc. Are you actually arguing that actions should be taken contrary to the law?

Posted by: Erik M | Apr 5, 2014 6:15:36 PM

Erik M --

"Are you actually arguing that actions should be taken contrary to the law?"

No. What in my comment led you to think I am?

I'm the one who spent years arguing that those who act contrary to law should be punished -- arguing, that is, against my opposite numbers in the defense bar, who argued that their clients should NOT be punished (or, if they were, that the "punishment" should consist of some nothingburger like "house arrest" or "community service").

"I wouldn't support illegal acts to stop the death penalty."

OK, that's good as far as it goes. Would you support bad faith tactics, such as repeat, last-minute motions based on arguments that were raised, or could have been raised, months or years before?

Or, to put it more succinctly, do you support what ordinary citzens correctly view as game-playing?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 5, 2014 7:09:52 PM

Nuke him. Its the right thing to do. Anyone remember in the movie, my cousin vinnie.
The jurors are being interviewd. The get to the older lady. She says fry him. Trotter responds with, she'll do.

This kid doesnt care. I don't partly cause he knows hes a gonner. His youth showed his immuturity as well as ignorance, with killer written on the front of his garmet.

Its a sad thing, but nuke him. Its time.

Posted by: Midwestguy | Apr 5, 2014 10:28:58 PM

That we are even having this debate shows just how ridiculous the whole thing is. This guy should never walk out of prison.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 6, 2014 1:41:08 PM

@Bill:
The law requires the Judge to consider the age of the defendant explicitly. The response that "he should have gotten the death penalty" isn't any response for why the case shouldn't be remanded so the Judge can actually explicitly consider it unless one thinks that the Judge shouldn't consider it (that the defendant already caught a break from Roper and shouldn't receive the possibility of receiving a lighter sentence because of his age). Since I'm apparently inferring that implication from your comment (and ResIpsa's comment) about Roper at my own peril, I'll just ask once again what the harm in remanding it in the manner I described is? To me, that's the best way of following current Ohio law.

As for bad faith filings, I do think there needs to be a mechanism to deal with that. I think that mechanism still needs to find a way to preserve good faith filings. but I'm not sure a good all-purpose answer just yet. However, I can't say it's contrary to the law as the law currently exists to file them.

Posted by: Erik M | Apr 7, 2014 4:46:50 PM

actually Erik the law NOW says that thanks to a new ruling from a judge! Unless they are tossing the rulings that stop judges looking at EVERY damn case years later. This is a non-starter.

I mean come on. these are the same govt fucktards who said just because someone is innocent is no reason to overturn a guilty verdict!

they can't have it both ways.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 8, 2014 4:01:46 PM

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