A killer who shot three people at a high school prayer circle in Paducah, Kentucky, a quarter of a century ago will plead for freedom this week.
Michael Carneal’s public defender is asking the Kentucky parole board to keep in mind that Carneal was just 14 years old at the time, suffering from undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia, being bullied and transitioning from middle school to high school.
Carneal, now 39, is “committed to his mental health treatment, participation in available educational and vocational programs, and to being a helpful and positive person inside the prison,” attorney Alana Meyer wrote this month. “Despite his surroundings, he has worked hard to improve himself and make the best of his situation.”
Carneal was sentenced to life in prison in 1998. Kentucky law requires juveniles to be eligible for parole after 25 years.
A The victim’s trial began Monday morning, and is expected to face significant pushback against Carneal’s request for release from a local prosecutor, victims’ families and survivors of the Dec. 1, 1997, shooting outside Heath High School.
Carneal will present his case at a hearing Tuesday, after which the parole board is expected to make a decision.
Chuck and Gwen Hadley – whose 14-year-old daughter, Nicole Hadley, was one of the young people killed that day – first addressed the board, saying they miss Nicole’s smile, sense of humor and “wonderful hug.” They want Carneal to spend his life in prison because he never showed remorse or took responsibility for those he injured and killed, the board was told.
“We missed Nicole’s high school graduation, college graduation, wedding, children, our grandchildren and many birthdays and holidays together,” Chuck Hadley told the board.
Christina Hadley Ellegood – who often visits the memorial stone for her younger sister, Jessica James and Kayce Steger, when she’s having a rough day – found Nicole on the ground after she was shot. She also told the board she opposed Carneal’s parole, saying Nicole was denied the opportunity to pursue her dreams of graduating as a grad student, attending the University of North Carolina, working as a WNBA physical therapist or running a special needs camp. kids.
“Nicole was sentenced to life. Michael (asked for) a life sentence,” she said. “I think he should spend the rest of his life in prison. Nicole doesn’t have a second chance. Why should she?”
Holland Holm, who survived, recounted his statement to the commission the day he was shot: “I was a 14-year-old boy. I laid on the ground in the hallway of Heath High School, bleeding from the side of my head and I thought I was going to die. I said a prayer and I was ready to die.”
He needed a dozen staples to repair the head wound, he said, but the mental and emotional scars run deeper. Holm still struggles with crowds, and worries if she sits with her back to the door at a restaurant, she said. He scans the room for danger and ways out. Fireworks and balloon bursts cause panic, and every school shooting forces him to relive the day he was shot, he said.
Still, when he thinks of Carneal, he said, he thinks of his oldest daughter, 10, and he can’t imagine holding her to the same level he would hold an adult.
“If metal health experts think he can be successful out there, he should get that chance,” Holm said, adding that he understands the anger people are feeling. “I feel that anger too, but when I feel that anger, I think about the 14-year-old boy who acted that day and I think about my children, and I think the man that boy became should have a chance. try to do it and be better.”
Missy Jenkins Smith played in a band with Carneal and remembers being bullied and harassed before the day she was shot at age 15. he recovered over the past 25 years, he told CNN before the hearing.
He’s no longer angry, he said, but he believes Carneal must face the consequences of his actions.
“The fact that he was the one who made the decision for everyone’s future – but is the only one who gets the chance for parole – is a bit frustrating, because all the others have been sentenced to life on parole. I will never walk again, and the dead girls will never come back,” he said.
In his letter to the Parole Board, Meyer said his client has “shown deep and genuine remorse and taken responsibility for the shooting.” He also sought to improve himself, maintaining a treatment program for 20 years, completing his GED and 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 “it has never been denied that he committed the alleged crimes or that he had a profound mental illness at the time of the crimes.”
Based on U.S. Supreme Court cases stating that juvenile offenders have “greater opportunities for reformation,” Meyer presented a re-entry plan showing that Carneal would have significant support from his family and medical professionals. Now housed at the Northeast Kentucky State Reformatory in Louisville, Carneal will move to live with his parents in Cold Spring, across the state from Paducah, if he is paroled, according to a re-entry plan submitted to the parole board.
The parents will help with finances, employment, housing and transportation to doctor’s appointments and meetings with the parole officer, the plan says, adding that they will go to mental health programs in Cold Spring and the Erlanger area.
“Michael is aware that any apology rings hollow, but he is truly sorry for the physical and emotional pain he caused his victims and the Heath High School community at large,” the re-entry plan states. “While there is nothing he can do to erase that pain now, he plans to contribute to society in any positive way he can.”
Prosecutor Daniel Boaz could not be reached early Monday, but CNN affiliate WDRB reported that the commonwealth’s attorney sent a letter to the parole board this month opposing Carneale’s release.
The families of the child victims have suffered losses “too great to put into words,” Boaz wrote, and while Carneal’s life sentence “may seem like a harsh sentence, it pales in comparison to what these families are going through.”