PADUCA, Ky. — A Kentucky man who killed three students and wounded five more in a school shooting 25 years ago told a parole panel Tuesday that he still hears voices like the ones that told him to steal a gun and shoot it in the hallway. of a crowded high school in 1997. .
The two-person panel that heard Michael Carneal’s testimony deferred a decision until Monday, when the entire state parole board will meet and could decide to grant his parole application, postpone his next parole decision to a later date. later or determine that he must spend the rest of his life in prison.
Carneal was a 14-year-old freshman on December 1. On January 1, 1997, when he fired the stolen pistol at a before-school prayer group in the lobby of Heath High School near Paducah, Kentucky. School shootings were not yet a depressing part of the national conscience, and Carneal received the maximum sentence possible at the time for someone his age: life in prison with the possibility of parole. A quarter-century later, in the shadow of Uvalde and in a nation disgusted by the carnage of mass shootings, Carneal, now 39, tried Tuesday to convince the parole panel that he deserves to be released.
Parole board chairwoman Ladeidra Jones told Carneal after her testimony that the two members had not reached a unanimous decision and would refer her case to the full board, which meets Monday. Only the full board has the power to order Carneal to serve his full sentence without another chance at parole.
Speaking in a video conference from the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange, Carneal told the panel that at the time of the shooting, “I was hearing certain things in my head, but I should have known that stealing guns … was going to drive. to something terrible.” He said he has been receiving therapy and taking psychiatric medication in prison, but admitted he still hears voices. Just a couple of days ago, he heard voices telling him to jump down the stairs.
Jones told Carneal that his inmate file lists his mental health prognosis as “poor” and says that even with mental health services, he still experiences paranoid thoughts with violent imagery.
Asked how the board could make sure he wouldn’t act on those thoughts, Carneal said he has learned to ignore them and hasn’t acted on them for many years. He said that there are days when he believes he deserves to die for what he did, but other days he believes he can still do some good in the world.
“It doesn’t have to be something grand,” he said. “Every little thing you do affects someone. He could be listening to someone, carrying something. I would like to do something in the future that can contribute to society.”
Carneal attributed the shooting to a combination of factors including his mental health and immaturity, but added that “it was not justified at all. There is no excuse at all.”
Nicole Hadley, 14, Jessica James, 17, and Kayce Steger, 15, were killed in the shooting.
Carneal said he knew all of his victims.
“Nicole was a very good friend,” he said. “Some of them I knew better than others, but it was a small school and a lot of these people were in band with me. I had been to several of their birthday parties. … None of them have negative memories of them.”
He ended with an apology.
“I would like to tell you and the victims and their friends and family and the entire community that I am sorry for what I did. I know it won’t change things or make anything better, but I’m sorry for what I did.”
Watching from her home in Kirksey was Missy Jenkins Smith, who was paralyzed by one of Carneal’s bullets and uses a wheelchair. Her friend Kelly Hard Alsip, also injured that day, and her children and other relatives of hers were huddled together on a large sectional sofa.
They scoffed when they heard Carneal say that he had not aimed at the prayer group but just fired at random. They also reacted with disbelief when he said that he had heard voices just two days ago.
After the hearing, Jenkins Smith said he doesn’t like waiting another week to find out what will happen, but “at least he won’t be released.”
She had testified before the parole board panel on Monday that she thinks there are too many “what ifs” with Carneal. What happens if she stops taking her medication? What if your medication stops working?
“Continuing his life in prison is the only way his victims can feel comfortable and safe,” he said.
He also said that it would be unfair to the girls he killed and their loved ones if Carneal were released.
“They will always be 17 years old, 14 years old and 15 years old, they will only be allowed a full decade to live. A consequence of Michael’s choice,” she said.
Also on trial Monday was Christina Hadley Ellegood, whose younger sister, Nicole, was killed in the shooting. Ellegood has written 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,” he said. “To me, it’s not fair that he can roam freely when we live in fear of where he might be.”
The full parole board’s two-person panel only has the option to release him or defer his next parole opportunity for up to five years. They couldn’t agree on those options and sent the case to a full board meeting the following Monday.
Hollan Holm, who was injured that day, spoke Monday about lying on the floor of the high school lobby, bleeding from his 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 be given a chance at supervised release.
“When I think of Michael Carneal, I think of the boy I used to ride the bus with every day,” he said. “I think of the boy I shared the lunch table with in third grade. I think of what he might have become if, on that day, he had had somewhere in him to make a different choice or take a different path.”