Kentucky school shooter seeks parole in high-stakes hearing

Kentucky school shooter seeks parole in high-stakes hearing

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) – A Kentucky man who killed three students and wounded five others in a school shooting 25 years ago will appear before the state parole board Tuesday in a high-stakes hearing that could deny him a chance to be released. him. to leave prison forever.

Michael Carneal was a 14-year-old freshman on December 1, 1997, when he fired a stolen pistol at a before-school prayer group in the lobby of Heath High School, near Paducah, Kentucky. School shootings were not yet a part of the national conscience, and Carneal was given the maximum sentence possible at the time for someone his age — life in prison but with the possibility of parole. A quarter of a century later, under the shadow of Uvalde and in a nation disgusted by the blame for the mass shooting, Carneal, who is now 39 years old, will try to convince the parole board that he deserves to be freed.

His parole hearing began Monday with testimony from those injured and close family of those killed, many of whom considered Carneal a friend.

Missy Jenkins Smith, who was paralyzed by one of Carneal’s shots and uses a wheelchair, said there are too many “what ifs” to let go. What happens if he stops taking his medication? What if his medication stops working?

“Continuing his life in prison is the only way his victims can be comfortable and safe,” she said.

Killed in the shooting were 14-year-old Nicole Hadley, 17-year-old Jessica James, and 15-year-old Kayce Steger. Jenkins Smith said it would be unfair to them and their family to release Carneal.

“They will forever be 17 years old, 14 years old, and 15 years old – except for a whole decade of life. A consequence of Michael’s choice,” she said.

Also testifying Monday was Christina Hadley Ellegood, whose younger sister Nicole was killed in the shooting. Ellegood wrote about the pain of seeing her sister’s body and having to call her mother and tell her that Nicole had been shot.

“I had no one to turn to who understood what I was going through,” she said Monday. “For me, it’s not fair for him to be able to roam freely when we’re scared of where he is.”

A two-person panel of the full parole board is hearing Carneal’s appeal. They have the option of releasing him or delaying his next chance at parole for up to five years. If the two cannot agree on those options, they can refer the case to a meeting of the full board next Monday. Only the full board has the power to deny Carneal any chance of parole, forcing him to remain in prison for the rest of his life.

Hollan Holm, who was injured that day, spoke Monday of lying on the high school lobby floor, bleeding from the head and believing he was going to die. But he said Carneal was too young to understand the full consequences of his actions and should have a chance at supervised release.

“When I think of Michael Carneal, I think of the kid I rode the bus with every day,” he said. “I think of the kid I shared a lunch table with in third grade. I think about what it could have been if, on that day, he was somewhere to make a different choice or take a different path.”

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