One Year After Chardon Shootings, T.J. Lane Pleads Guilty
It's been a year to the day since T.J. Lane pulled out a gun in the cafeteria of Chardon High School, and began shooting.
He fired ten shots, killing three students and wounding three others, and then fled the school. Police found him a short time later, sitting in a ditch. Authorities say he admitted at that time committing the shootings, and was placed under arrest.
Lane pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to three counts of aggravated murder, two of attempted aggravated murder, and one count of felonious assault.
After months of trial postponements, he has now pleaded guilty to all charges under a deal reached with the Geauga County Prosecutor.
Judge David Fuhry questioned Lane at length, asking if he was aware he was waiving his right to a jury. You have to listen close to hear Lane's answers.
FUHRY: "You're waiving and giving up your rights to a jury of 12 qualified jurors. Or, if you wished, a trial to the court. (Yes, your honor.) It'd be your choice, you understand that. (Yes.)"
Fuhry asked Lane if his attorneys agreed with his decision to plead guilty. He said no, they didn't.
Lane's attorney Ian Friedman told reporters outside the courthouse that Lane made the plea of his own free will.
FRIEDMAN: "T.J.'s plea of guilty is a complete admission to each and every element of each and every charge-every crime. T.J. has made it clear he will not seek to mitigate what has been done."
But it wasn't clear why Lane changed his plea. Friedman declined to answer questions from reporters about it.
University of Akron law professor J. Dean Carro says insanity defenses must meet a very high standard to be successful. In some cases, the evidence might not be convincing enough.
CARRO: "In Ohio, the defendant has the burden or proving insanity by a preponderance of the evidence. So one might look at the evidence and say, well, it doesn't appear that the finder of fact will agree with us."
The prosecutor wouldn't say if that was the case in this instance. Also unanswered was what was contained in the new evidence discovered earlier this year, which prompted both sides to ask for trial to be delayed. Geauga County prosecutor Jim Flaiz said he'd answer specific questions like these after the sentencing.
Lane is set to be sentenced on March 19. The prison term for murder is life. It remains to be seen whether a possibility of parole was part of the plea deal.
Flaiz told reporters outside the courthouse that the families of the victims supported the plea deal completely, and that they hoped for a strict sentence.
FLAIZ: "The families, the victims, what they've told us, and what we believe, is that this defendant never leaving a prison cell would be the most fair and just result that we could have in this case."
In attendance at the hearing was Congressmen Dave Joyce -- last year, as county prosecutor, he oversaw the case. Also in the courtroom were Lane's family and at least one of the students he wounded attended the hearing.
Today the city of Chardon holds a series of ceremonies marking one year since the shooting occurred.