The shooter in last year’s slaying of three students at Chardon High School was defiant in court yesterday as he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for his crime. Three other students were wounded in the shooting carried out by then-17-year-old T.J. Lane. ideastream’s Nick Castele reports Lane’s behavior at his sentencing evoked shock and disgust from those present in the courtroom.
After T.J. Lane entered the courtroom, he unbuttoned and removed his oxford shirt to reveal a white t-shirt with the word “killer” written across the front. It resembled the shirt he wore the day he took his uncle’s gun to Chardon High School.
Lane’s attorney Ian Friedman said the defense team was prepared to present evidence to mitigate the sentence -- but that Lane asked them not to.
When asked if he had anything to say, Lane directed a one-sentence statement containing obscenities at the slain students’ families, raising his middle finger as he concluded.
Victims’ family members were then given their chance to speak. As Lane faced her and smirked, Dina Parmertor -- whose son Danny was killed -- called Lane pathetic and a monster.
PARMERTOR: “I hope you have a cold, rough, unkind, harsh prison life with monsters like yourself. I want you to endure years and years of pain and abuse, which in my opinion is not harsh enough.”
Relatives also remembered Demetrius Hewlin and Russell King Jr., who were both killed in the shooting.
Also in the courtroom was Nick Walczak. He was injured in the shooting and now uses a wheelchair. His mother, Holly, asked the judge not to offer Lane the possibility of parole.
HOLLY: “Judge Fuhry, please don’t ever let him on the streets. He is dangerous and has caused way too much pain.”
Judge David Fuhry gave Lane three life sentences, plus additional prison time—none with an option of parole. He said Lane planned the attack in advance.
FUHRY: “Loaded the gun the night before the shooting, took it together with a spare, fully-loaded magazine and a knife for backup. Concealed them all as a part of his criminal course of conduct. These juveniles were ambushed. This was not an impulsive course of conduct. It was the studied effort of someone bent on killing.”
After the sentencing, Defense attorney Ian Friedman said he did not know his client would behave the way he did in court.
Later in the day Judge Fuhry released a statement saying from the bench he did not see Lane’s shirt bearing the word “killer,” and that if he had he would have stopped the proceeding and compelled Lane to dress appropriately.
As to Lane’s statement to the families, a legal analyst speaking on WKYC-TV suggested that cutting Lane off before he finished his remarks could assist his case in an appeal.
Outside the courthouse, Lane’s sister Sadie spoke to reporters flanked by attorney Ian Friedman and other family members. She offered her condolences to the families, and said she was in the cafeteria when Lane started shooting. She said she fled to a teachers’ lounge.
SADIE: “Sitting in that room in shock as we all comforted one another, I heard a police officer outside the window say that they suspected T.J. Lane. I shook and cried, and denied that all of this could be true.”
Left unanswered in the hearing was the question of motive. Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz told reporters afterward that in the near future, he would make public the prosecution’s theory.
He did say that FBI investigators retrieved deleted text messages from Lane’s cell phone. One message Lane sent to his sister mentioned a school shooting—but not in a way that it would cause alarm.
FLAIZ: “The way the text message was phrased to his sister, I’m not sure that she would have taken it as anything. I think only when you look at it in retrospect does it have the impact that it does now.”
Lane has asked to be assigned an attorney who could walk him through the appeals process.
Meanwhile, families of some of the victims have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Lane and his family in civil court.