July 27, 2012
THOMAS J. SHEERAN
CHARDON — A 17-year-old will be tried as an adult in the school shooting deaths of three students, a juvenile court judge ruled Thursday after hearing a sheriff’s deputy describe how the teen wore a T-shirt with the word “Killer” and admitted shooting people.
T.J. Lane admitted firing at students sitting at a cafeteria table at Chardon High School east of Cleveland on Feb. 27, killing three and seriously wounding two, authorities say.
Lane, with his grandparents and the relatives of victims sitting apart in court, swallowed hard and blinked as Geauga County Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Grendell announced that he should be tried as an adult.
Lane could face life in prison if he’s convicted. Minors are not eligible for the death penalty in Ohio. Had his case been routed to juvenile court, the maximum possible penalty would have kept him jailed until he turned 21.
The judge said he found probable evidence in all six charges against Lane, including aggravated murder counts. He rejected a defense request to release Lane on a $500,000 bond and said Lane would pose a risk to flee and a safety risk to the community.
The ruling capped a morning hearing that offered new details about the attack but left unanswered the question of motive.
The judge, over the objections of The Associated Press and other media outlets, cleared the courtroom of everyone but Lane and attorneys while a surveillance video of the shooting scene was played. The tape could jeopardize Lane’s chance to get a fair trial, the judge ruled.
Attorneys in the case are under a gag order and the judge extended it to prohibit any discussion of the video.
Geauga County Sheriff’s Deputy Jon Bilicic, who hurriedly dressed when called to duty for the shooting, testified that he helped arrest Lane, who was wearing a T-shirt with the word “Killer,” about a mile from the school and questioned him closely.
Asked by defense attorney Mark DeVan if Lane had admitted, “I shot people,” the deputy answered yes.
The deputy said that Lane was asked about a motive and responded, “I don’t know.”
Asked by the deputy how many people he had shot, Lane responded, “I have no idea,” Bilicic said.
The deputy also acknowledged that Lane indicated he hadn’t been using drugs, wasn’t suicidal or depressed and hadn’t been bullied.
Asked if he had hit anyone in the head, Lane told the deputy, “I don’t know.”
The defense line of questioning apparently was meant to underscore a psychiatrist’s findings that Lane sometimes loses touch with reality and suffers from hallucinations, psychosis and fantasies.
One of the first officers at the scene, Chardon Patrolman Matt DeLisa, testified that he found the victims near a cafeteria table with lots of blood around.
Some relatives of victims held hands during the testimony and choked back tears. Relatives weren’t called to testify and deputies guarded the doors as family members left before others in the courtroom were allowed to leave.
Grendell previously found the teenager mentally competent to stand trial in juvenile court, where he was charged with three counts of aggravated murder and two counts of attempted aggravated murder. Grendell said the ruling on mental competency may not be used in other legal proceedings, meaning the issue may be revisited in adult court.
A psychiatrist had testified that none of Lane’s symptoms detailed in a mental evaluation would prevent him from understanding the case against him and helping in his defense. The psychiatrist said he saw no evidence that Lane was faking mental illness.
Lane attended an alternative school for students who haven’t done well in traditional schools; he had been at Chardon waiting for a bus.
Prosecutor David Joyce said Lane has admitted taking a .22-caliber pistol and a knife to the high school and firing 10 shots at a group of students sitting at a cafeteria table. The motive for the shooting remains unclear, though Joyce apparently has ruled out theories involving bullying or drug dealing.