CHARDON, Ohio (AP) – The gunman in a deadly Ohio school shooting two years ago is challenging a state law that forced him to be tried in adult court.
The attorney for T.J. Lane argued at an appeals hearing Wednesday that Lane’s sentence of life without parole should be thrown out.
Lane wasn’t at the hearing. He was 17 when he shot and killed three students at Chardon High School, east of Cleveland.
A prosecutor told the appeals judges that state law makes it clear that a 17-year-old who shoots and kills someone should be tried in adult court.
A similar challenge of the state law is pending before the Ohio Supreme Court involving a 16-year-old sent to prison.
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A teen who pleaded guilty to shooting and killing three students in a high school cafeteria is challenging an Ohio law that allowed him to be tried as an adult, hoping to persuade an appeals court to throw out his sentence of life without parole.
Prosecutors and T.J. Lane’s defense attorney will go before a state appeals court Wednesday morning inside the courtroom where a smirking Lane wore a T-shirt with “killer” scrawled across it and gestured obscenely toward the victims’ families during his sentencing.
Lane was 17 at the time of the February 2012 shooting at Chardon High School, east of Cleveland, and his age is at the center of his appeal.
Because he was a juvenile, he was ineligible for the death penalty. He is serving three life sentences without parole. Lane, now 19, is not expected to attend the appeal hearing.
Lane’s attorney is challenging an Ohio law that allowed his case to be transferred from juvenile court to adult court, a statute also being challenged in an unrelated case pending before the Ohio Supreme Court involving a 16-year-old sent to prison.
The law requires the transfer to adult court if a juvenile is 16 or 17, accused of one of the most severe offenses, and there is probable cause to believe he committed that act.
Lane’s appeal said that violates the right to due process “because it prohibits the court from making any individualized determination of the appropriateness of the transfer of a particular child’s case to adult court.”
Prosecutors say Lane gave up his right to appeal his sentence when he voluntarily pleaded guilty, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent and a recent Ohio case.
“Under the eyes of Ohio law (Lane’s) conduct was an adult criminal act,” Geauga County Prosecutor James Flaiz wrote in response to the appeal.
Lane was at the Chardon school waiting for a bus to his alternative school when he fired at students in the cafeteria, investigators said.
Daniel Parmertor and Demetrius Hewlin, both 16, and Russell King Jr., 17, were killed. Three other students were wounded. Investigators have said Lane admitted to the shooting but said he didn’t know why he did it.
As of 2012, there were about 2,500 people in the U.S. serving life sentences for homicides that occurred when they were juveniles, but the current number is difficult to track because a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that year raised the possibility that hundreds of those sentences may be called into question, said Marsha Levick, chief counsel for the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Juvenile Law Center.
Giving juveniles life terms without parole “means that we’re making these decisions on day one of sentencing about who Lane or any other juvenile will be 30, 40, 50 years from now,” Levick said. “And it’s almost impossible to make that decision or to know who he will become as an adult.”
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