The 11th District Court of Appeals has upheld the mandatory juvenile bindover and life sentence without parole of Chardon Schools' shooter T.J. Lane.
The 11th District Court of Appeals has upheld the mandatory juvenile bindover and life sentence without parole of Chardon Schools’ shooter T.J. Lane.
Lane was sentenced last March after pleading guilty to three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder and felonious assault. His conviction resulted from the Feb. 27, 2012, shooting inside the Chardon High School cafeteria that left three students dead, one paralyzed from the chest down and two others injured.
Those killed were Danny Parmertor, 16, Demetrius Hewlin, 16, and Russell King Jr., 17. Those wounded were Nick Walczak, 18, Nate Mueller, 17, and Joy Rickers, 19.
Lane filed an appeal last April seeking to have his conviction and sentence of lifetime in prison without parole overturned. He raised four issues on appel. His court-appointed counsel, Michael Partlow, of Kent, focused on two of the four issues during his oral argument March 26: the constitutionality of Lane’s mandatory bindover from juvenile court to adult court and the imposition of a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Writing for the 3-0 majority, Judge Cynthia Westcott Rice ruled Ohio’s mandatory juvenile bindover statutes are not unconstitutional and Lane’s sentence to life in prison without parole did not violate the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
“Although (Lane’s) sentence is severe, it is not disproportionately so. He shot six students in school, three of whom were killed and another paralyzed, without provocation and in cold blood,” Rice said. “The horrific and senseless nature of this homicide is compounded by the fact that, at sentencing, (Lane) showed no remorse and even contempt for his victims and their families.”
As such, Rice ruled the sentence Geauga County Common Pleas Judge David Fuhry handed down did not “shock the community’s sense of justice.” In addition, it was within the statutory range for each count of which Lane was convicted.
She also held the imposition of three consecutive life sentences was appropriate.
“(Lane) did not act on impulse, on provocation or under pressure from peers or adults,” Rice found. “To the contrary, he planned this attack weeks in advance before he went to school that day with a loaded gun. He shot three young students to death. He shot another student several times, confining him to a wheelchair and subjecting him to a life of pain and disability.”
Lane also brought “indescribable pain, grief and lifelong tragedy” to the victims’ families, she added.
Presiding Judge Timothy P. Cannon and Judge Thomas R. Wright concurred with Rice’s 36-page opinion, which was filed with the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas Monday morning.
“We are very pleased with the appellate court’s well-reasoned decision,” Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz said.” We prevailed on every legal argument that was before the court.”
He added, “At this point, we will wait to see if the defendant appeals to the Ohio Supreme Court.”
In her opinion, Rice reveals facts about the shooting and case not previously disclosed at the trial court level, including a detailed account of the video taken from security cameras in the school cafeteria and hallway.
In addition, Rice noted Lane underwent a competency evaluation to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. Lynn A. Luna Jones, Ph.D., of the Psycho-Diagnostic Clinic, evaluated Lane and concluded he was competent to stand trial.
“Dr. Lynn A. Luna Jones … stated in her competency report that during (Lane’s) prior competency evaluation with Dr. Resnick, (Lane) told him that he had heard voices and experienced delusions. However, (Lane) admitted to Dr. Jones that he has never actually experienced any of these symptoms,” Rice wrote in her opinion. “(Lane) admitted he ‘lied’ to Dr. Resnick when he told him he had heard voices.”
Rice further writes in Jones’ competency report Lane denied ever experiencing anxiety and confusion, or any “prior fears of losing his mind.” Instead, he reported those symptoms to Dr. Philip Resnick, a court-appointed forensic psychiatrist ordered to complete a competency evaluation, because he was “trying to appear schizophrenic.”
“Finally, he said he lied about his report of being a victim of sexual abuse because he thought it ‘couldn’t hurt’ to say he was,” Rice said, referring again to Jones’ report.
Lane also said he was able to successfully manipulate Ravenwood Mental Health staff at the Geauga County Safety Center to believe he was mentally ill, Rice said.
“He said he feigned symptoms of being depressed, suicidal, sexually abused, psychotic and schizophrenic,” she wrote. “He said he was able to ‘force (himself) to cry when necessary to convince staff he was depressed.’”
When asked why he decided to change his previously reported mental health symptoms, Lane told Jones he was “afraid that if (he) didn’t come clean, they wouldn’t let me change my plea to guilty,” Rice wrote.
Lane said he stole the handgun — a .22-caliber, semiautomatic Ruger — while visiting his uncle the day before the shooting, Rice wrote. He also stole a second magazine and a handful of bullets that were stored with the gun.
“When he stole the gun, it was empty,” Rice said. “The night before the shooting, he loaded both magazines and put one of them in the gun. He put the gun in his book bag that morning because he felt he would probably shoot people.”
Lane also said he did not target any of the victims, the judge explained.
“Rather, he said he shot at a random group of people. He said that, while he had seen these students before, he did not know them,” Rice said. “He said he aimed at their heads so they would die quicker and not suffer.”
Flaiz, however, said Monday that Lane did choose some of the victims.
“It is important to note the appellate court is simply summarizing some of the evidence in the case,” the prosecutor said. “As part of the sentencing, I submitted a copy of the surveillance video from the school, the cruiser video when the defendant was arrested and the lengthy video of the interrogation that took place at the jail.
“The court’s decision contains some statements made by the defendant during his interrogation. Based on all of the evidence, the defendant was lying at various points throughout his interview with detectives. Specifically, it is clear that this was not a random incident.”
Regarding the T-shirt with the word “Killer” printed across the chest he wore on the day of the shooting, Lane told investigators he bought it about one week before the incident. Rice wrote in her opinion.
“He said he wore it today (Feb. 27, 2012) because he was going to be shooting people,” the judge said.
Lane also wore an undershirt at the sentencing with the word “KILLER” written on it, similar to the shirt he word more than a year earlier.
Rice further said Lane instructed his attorney, Ian Friedman, not to make any statement on his behalf. Instead, Friedman said Lane wanted to make a statement on his own behalf, but urged his client not to make the statement he expected him to make.
Lane told Fuhry he voluntarily and against the advice of his counsel waived his right to present information in mitigation of punishment.
“(He) then turned around and, with his middle finger raised toward the victims’ families, said to them: ‘This hand that pulled the trigger, that killed your sons, now masturbates to the memory. F&%$ all of you,’” Rice wrote.
Lane is currently serving three life sentences without parole at Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution in Lima.
This is a breaking story. Check back for more updates.
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