Heath High School: Paducah, Kentucky school shooter Michael Carneal seeks parole after 25 years in prison

Michael Carneal’s public defender asks the Kentucky parole board to keep in mind that Carneal was only 14 at the time and suffered from undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia while battling with bullying and the transition from middle school to high school.

Carneal, now 39, “is committed to following his mental health treatment, participating in available educational and vocational programs, and being a helpful and positive person within the prison,” wrote the attorney Alana Meyer this month. “Despite his surroundings, he worked hard to improve and make the most of his situation.”

A victims’ hearing was held on Monday, and Carneal faced a significant denial of his request for release – from a local prosecutor, family members of the victims and those who survived December 1. 1997, shooting outside Heath High School. One survivor, who was shot in the head by Carneal, told the council he understood why people wanted to keep him in prison, but would vote to give the convicted murderer another chance.

Carneal will present his case by videoconference Tuesday at 8 a.m. (9 a.m. ET), after which a two-member panel of the parole board may deny or grant him parole, said board chairwoman Ladeidra Jones. If she and council member Larry Brock disagree on Carneal’s fate, the panel can refer her case to the full council, which meets Sept. 26. The full board will have the power to grant or deny parole, or defer his case for up to 10 years, Jones said.

Victims tell of years of horror

Chuck and Gwen Hadley – whose 14-year-old daughter Nicole Hadley was one of the youngsters killed that day – first addressed the board, saying the smile, sense of humor and they missed Nicole’s “wonderful hugs”. They want Carneal to spend his life in prison because he has never shown remorse or taken responsibility for those he hurt and killed, they told the board.

“We missed Nicole’s high school graduation, her college graduation, her marriage, her children, our grandchildren, and many birthdays and vacations together,” Chuck Hadley told the board.

Christina Hadley Ellegood – who often visits the stone monument commemorating her younger sister, Jessica James and Kayce Steger when she is having a hard day – found Nicole on the ground after being shot. She, too, told the board she opposed Carneal’s parole, saying Nicole never had the chance to fulfill her dreams of graduating as valedictorian, going to college. from North Carolina, working as a WNBA physical therapist or running a special needs camp. kids.

“Nicole was given a life sentence. Michael (pleaded) for a life sentence,” she said. “I think he should spend the rest of his life in prison. Nicole doesn’t get a second chance. Why should he?”

Survivor Hollan Holm opened his statement by recounting the day he was shot: “I was a child of 14. I lay on the floor in the hall of Heath High School, I bled from the side of my head and I thought I was going to die. I said a prayer and got ready to die.

It took a dozen staples to fix his head wound, he said, but the mental and emotional scars run deeper. Holm always struggles in crowds and gets anxious if he sits in a restaurant with his back to the door, he said. He scans the room for dangers and ways out. Fireworks and bursting balloons cause panic, and every school shooting forces him to relive the day he was shot, he said.

But when he thinks of Carneal, he says, he thinks of his eldest daughter, 10, and he can’t imagine holding her to the same level he would hold an adult.

“If the metal health experts think he can be successful outdoors, he should be given that chance,” Holm said, saying he understands the anger people are feeling. “I feel that anger too, but when I feel that anger, I think of the 14-year-old boy who acted out that day and I think of my own children, and I think the man that boy has become should have the chance to try to do and be better.”

Missy Jenkins looks at a recovery card with her twin sister, Mandy, at a Kentucky hospital in 1997.

Missy Jenkins Smith played in the band with Carneal and remembers being bullied and bullied others before the day she was shot when she was 15. From the wheelchair Carneal left her in, Smith said she could talk for hours about how she struggles without the use of her legs – getting out of bed, washing, reaching cabinets, getting in and getting out of cars and “the embarrassment of special accommodations that have to be made wherever I go”.

Where she is supposed to take care of her 12- and 15-year-old boys, she said, they take care of her instead. However, she will not be able to dance with them at their weddings.

Because Carneal has never cared for him since he was 14, she struggles with medical experts’ conclusion that he can be a productive member of society. What if the stress of life outside prison was too much? What if he stops taking his medication?

“Moving on with life in prison is the only way for its victims to feel comfortable and safe without being haunted by assumptions,” Smith said.

Lawyer: Carneal has a support system

In his letter to the parole board, Meyer said his client “showed deep and sincere remorse and took responsibility for the shooting.” He also sought to improve, maintaining a treatment program for 20 years, completing his GED and an anger management program, and taking college courses.

Carneal was suffering from the early stages of schizophrenia – which is difficult to diagnose in teenagers – at the time of the shooting, the lawyer wrote, and “there has never been a denial that he committed the alleged crimes or that he was profoundly mentally ill at the time the crimes were committed.”

Drawing on U.S. Supreme Court cases indicating that juvenile offenders have “greater prospects for reform,” Meyer submitted a reintegration plan showing Carneal would have plenty of support from his family and prison professionals. health. Now housed at the Kentucky State Reformatory northeast of Louisville, Carneal will move with his parents to Cold Spring, across the state from Paducah, if he is paroled, according to the reintegration plan presented to the court. parole board.

Authorities escorted Michael Carneal until his arraignment in January 1998.

His parents will help him with finances, employment, housing and transportation to doctor’s appointments and meetings with his parole officer, the plan says, adding that he will be referred to programs for mental health in Cold Spring and nearby Erlanger.

“Michael is aware that any apology rings hollow but is sincerely sorry for all the physical and emotional pain he has caused to his victims and to the Heath High School community as a whole,” the reintegration plan reads. “Although there is nothing he can do now to erase this pain, he plans to contribute positively to society in any way he can.”

District Attorney Daniel Boaz told the board that he was a county attorney at the time of the shooting, which “shook us to the core, to put it mildly.” The heinous nature of Carneal’s crime allowed authorities to treat him as an adult under Kentucky law, he said, and the state should continue to treat him as an adult who should “pay the consequences.” of his deed”.

Ahead of Monday’s hearing, the Commonwealth barrister told council he would oppose Carneal’s parole, saying the families of the child victims had suffered losses ‘too great to put into words “, according to CNN affiliate WDRB. While imprisoning Carneal for life “may seem like a severe sentence”, Boaz wrote, “it is but a pittance compared to what these families are suffering”.

CNN’s Nouran Salahieh contributed to this report.


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