Heath High School shooting: Convicted mass shooter Michael Carneal pleads case in Kentucky parole hearing, but still hears voices

KENTUCKY– A man who killed three students when he was 14 will wait a little longer to learn if he will be paroled, CNN reported.

Two members of the Kentucky parole board failed to reach a unanimous decision Tuesday at the parole hearing for Michael Carneal, who has served nearly 25 years in prison for the mass shooting at Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky.

The full parole board will review his case on Sept. 26 and then make a decision, parole board chair Ladeidra Jones said.

Carneal, now 39, pleaded during Tuesday’s hearing – which was held via videoconference. “I’ve had 25 years to prepare for today and it still doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” Carneal told Jones.

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Carneal was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary. However, Kentucky law requires that minors be considered for parole after 25 years.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Carneal said he had received multiple mental health diagnoses and had long heard voices in his head — including on the day of the mass shooting.

“I’ve heard things. And I was extremely suspicious. And I had felt alienated and different for years,” Carneal said.

He said on December 1, 1997, he heard a voice telling him to “take the gun out of the backpack and hold it in front of me and shoot.”

“There is no justification or excuse for what I did,” Carneal said. “I offer an explanation. I realize there is no excuse for what I have done.”

When asked if he still heard voices in his head, Carneal said yes.

“Most of the time it’s things that might hurt me or something,” he said. For example, a few days ago, Carneal said a voice told him to jump off the stairs.

But now, Carneal said, he knows when to ignore such voices.

“I know now that I shouldn’t be doing that,” he said. “And I’m able to not do it and rationalize that I shouldn’t do it. And what I hear is not real.”

The parole officer questions Carneal’s plans

Carneal also spoke broadly about his plans to rejoin society if he is granted parole.

“I plan to live with my parents and I want to be independent from them after a few years. I realize I would have to do a lot of things to get there,” he said.

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“I intend to get a job. I’m not really sure what kind of job I want. I mean, fast food, anything would do for me,” Carneal said.

“I had jobs here (during my incarceration) that I have kept – sanitation jobs. And I could do that. … Basically anything to do with employment.”

But Jones pressed Carneal as to why he didn’t write a letter to the parole board himself, but instead relied on letters from his family and attorney.

“We have received some letters of support on your behalf and a plan provided by your legal counsel. But I think the most important thing is that the board would have received a letter or a plan from you,” Jones said. “Is there a specific reason why you haven’t submitted anything to the board?”

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“No, not particularly,” Carneal replied. “I thought everything was in the plan in the letter from my parents and family.”

Jones said the most important thing for Carneal was “to let the board know why or how you will avoid making the same or a similar decision that brought you to the institution.”

“And I’m not sure if 25 years from now you’ve given us a real, detailed plan at this point.”

Carneal said maintaining his mental health care and counseling will be vital if he were to be released on parole. “I go to a psychologist and a psychiatrist … I take three psychiatric drugs,” he said.

“I’ve learned over the years to accept that help when it’s offered. And sometimes I have to look for her. And I think that’s going to be very important in this situation… That’s going to be very beneficial.”

Attorney: Carneal had paranoid schizophrenia

His public defender has asked the parole board to recall that Carneal was just 14 at the time of the mass shooting, had undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia and was struggling with bullying and transitioning from middle to high school.

In the quarter-century since, Carneal “has been committed to his mental health care, participated in available educational and professional programs, and been a helpful and positive person within prison,” attorney Alana Meyer wrote this month.

“Despite his environment, he has worked hard to improve and make the best of his situation.”

Victims and families are divided over parole

A victims’ hearing was held on Monday, and Carneal faced ample opposition to his requested release from a local prosecutor, the victims’ families and those who survived the mass shooting outside Heath High School.

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Chuck and Gwen Hadley – whose 14-year-old daughter, Nicole Hadley, was one of the youths killed that day – addressed the board on Monday and said they miss Nicole’s smile, sense of humor and “wonderful hugs”.

They want Carneal to spend his life in prison as he has never shown remorse or taken responsibility for those he hurt and killed, they told the board.

“We missed Nicole’s high school graduation, her college degree, her wedding, her children, our grandchildren and many birthdays and holidays together,” Chuck Hadley told the board.

Christina Hadley Ellegood – who often visits the stone memorial commemorating her younger sister Jessica James and Kayce Steger when she’s having a rough day – found Nicole on the ground after she was shot.

She, too, told the board she opposed parole for Carneal and said Nicole never had the chance to pursue her dreams of graduating at the top of her class, attending the University of North Carolina, working as a WNBA physical therapist, or to run a camp for special needs children.

“Nicole was sentenced to life imprisonment. Michael (pleaded) to life imprisonment,” she said. “I think he should spend the rest of his life in prison. Nicole doesn’t get a second chance. Why should he?”

But one survivor who was shot in the head by Carneal told the board he understood why people want to keep him in prison but would vote to give the convicted killer another chance.

Survivor Hollan Holm opened his statement about the day he was shot: “I was a 14-year-old kid. I was lying on the floor in the lobby of Heath High School, bleeding from the side of my head, thinking I was going to die. I said a prayer and prepared to die.”

It took a dozen staples to repair his head wound, he said, but the mental and emotional scars run deeper. Holm still struggles with crowds, and he’s worried when he’s sitting in a restaurant with his back to the door, he said.

He scans the room for danger and escape routes. Fireworks and popping balloons cause panic, and every school shooting forces him to relive the day he was shot, he said.

But when he thinks of Carneal, he says, he thinks of his eldest daughter, 10, and he can’t imagine holding her to the same standard he would hold of an adult.


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“If the metal health experts think he can be successful outside, then he should be given that chance,” Holm said, saying he understands people’s anger. “I feel that anger too, but when I feel that anger, I think about the 14-year-old boy who played that day, and I think about my own children, and I think, the man that boy has become should be given the chance to try to do it and get better.”

Missy Jenkins Smith played in the band with Carneal and recalls being bullied and others bullied before the day she was shot dead aged 15.

From the wheelchair Carneal left her in, Smith said she could talk for hours about struggling without using her legs — getting out of bed, bathing, reaching closets, getting in and out of cars, and the “embarrassment of particular.” Accommodations that have been made wherever I go.”

Where she is supposed to look after her 12- and 15-year-old boys, she said, they look after them instead. But she won’t be able to dance with them at their weddings.

The lawyer says Carneal has shown remorse

In her letter to the parole board, Meyer said her client “expressed deep, sincere remorse and accepted responsibility for the shooting.” He’s also tried to improve by maintaining a treatment program for 20 years, completing his GED and an anger management program, and taking college courses.

Carneal was suffering from early-stage schizophrenia at the time of the shooting, which is difficult to diagnose in adolescents, the attorney wrote.

Basing on US Supreme Court cases suggesting juvenile offenders have “greater prospects for reform,” Meyer presented a re-entry plan that indicated Carneal would receive much support from his family and medical professionals.

Carneal, who is now housed at the Kentucky State Reformatory northeast of Louisville, will move into his parole home with his parents in Cold Spring, across state from Paducah, under the parole board’s reinstatement plan.

His parents will help him with finances, employment, housing and transportation to doctor’s appointments and meetings with his parole officer, the plan says, adding that he will be referred to mental health programs in Cold Spring and nearby Erlanger.

The video in the player above is from a previous report.

(The CNN Wire & 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.)

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