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September 26, 2022

Kentucky parole board orders school shooter to serve out the remainder of his life sentence

In this post last month, titled "Grappling with parole possibilities a quarter-century after horrific school shooting by young teen," I flagged an article discussing the first modern teen school shooter who was due to receive parole consideration 25 years after his crime.  This new lengthy CNN piece reports on the results of the process, and here are excerpts:

The Kentucky Parole Board on Monday denied parole to Michael Carneal, a man serving a life sentence for killing three students in a school shooting in 1997 when he was 14 years old. The ruling by the full parole board to have Carneal serve out his sentence comes after a two-person panel failed to reach a unanimous decision about Carneal’s release last week.

“Due to the seriousness of your crime — your crime involved a weapon, you had lives taken, and the seriousness, again — it is the decision of the parole board today to allow you to serve out the remainder of your sentence,” Parole Board Chairperson Ladeidra Jones said Monday. Carneal, who attended the hearing via video conference, responded, “Yes ma’am,” and stepped out of frame.

Carneal has served nearly 25 years in prison for opening fire at Heath High School in Paducah on December 1, 1997, killing the three students and wounding five others just after the students’ prayer circle in the lobby said “Amen.” Carneal pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, and a count of first-degree burglary. While he was sentenced to life in prison, Kentucky law requires that minors be considered for parole after 25 years.

Many survivors and families of the victims were opposed to Carneal’s requested release.  But now 39, Carneal pleaded his case to members of the parole board in a hearing last week, saying that if he were released, he planned to live with his parents, continue undergoing mental health treatment and eventually get a job.

Carneal’s public defender, Alana Meyer, asked the board to remember Carneal was a teenager when he opened fire, was suffering from undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia and was struggling with bullying and the transition from middle to high school. In the quarter century since, Carneal “has committed himself to his mental health treatment, to participating in available educational and vocational programs, and to being a helpful and positive person within the prison,” Meyer wrote....

Carneal told the panel he has received multiple mental health diagnoses and has long heard voices in his head – including on the day of the shooting.  He said that before opening fire he heard a voice telling him to “pick up the gun out of the backpack and hold it in front of me and shoot.”

“There’s no justification or excuse for what I did,” Carneal said. “I’m offering an explanation. I realize there’s no excuse for what I did.”  Carneal said he still hears voices in his head, but now knows when to ignore them.

A colleague has informed me that there is litigation in lower courts contesting the legality of the Kentucky parole board converting a life with parole sentence into a life without parole sentence via this kind of "serve out" order.  

September 26, 2022 at 03:48 PM | Permalink


The Kentucky state litigation concerning the legality and Constitutionality of these kinds of "SERVE OUT" orders by the Parole Board for inmates with paroleable life sentences (which leads to parole consideration after serving 25 years) can be found at "Lance Conn, et al. v. Kentucky Parole Board", Appeal No. 2020-CA-1495-MR (Ky. App. April 22, 2022)(affirming the Circuit Court's denial of the appellants Motion for Summary Judgment), application for discretionary review to the Kentucky Supreme Court pending, No. 2022-SC-0198-DR (fully briefed and submitted, July 25, 2022). The relevant statute concerning the issuance of SERVE OUT Orders being reviewed is KRS 439.340(14).

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Sep 26, 2022 6:53:07 PM

The SERVE OUT Order (no further consideration for parole will ever be made) for this defendant is peculiarly interesting in light of the Supreme Court's "Miller" case, holding that no person who was a juvenile when he committed his crimes, can be sentenced to a life without the possibility of parole sentence. Does the Kentucky Parole Board's one-time consideration for parole after the defendant has served 25 years (denied), and then serve out the life sentence without any further consideration of parole satisfy the requirements of Miller?

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Sep 26, 2022 6:59:47 PM

Well I can certainly see why "struggling" with the transition from middle school to high schools would cause you to murder three people who were just sitting there.

Do these people even hear themselves?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 27, 2022 8:12:12 PM

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