Lawyers representing the teenager accused of killing three students and wounding three others at Chardon High School earlier this year say he was insane at the time and should not be convicted.
A not guilty by reason of insanity plea was filed Monday, after attorneys for T.J. Lane had asked for additional time to gather his mental health records and have him thoroughly evaluated by experts.
|Attorneys for T. J. Lane say he was insane at the time of the Chardon High School shootings on Feb. 27.|
Lane's lawyers, Ian Friedman and Mark DeVan, would have to prove that at the time of the shootings the teen didn't know his actions were wrong because of severe mental diseases or defects.
They declined to comment on Monday's plea.
In cases where the insanity plea has worked, lawyers have often shown long histories of treatment and hospitalizations for mental health problems.
In an earlier court hearing, Lane's attorney Mark DeVan said his client had suffered for years from visual and auditory hallucinations and severe migraines.
The most difficult part of using this defense is proving that that a severe mental illness caused the person to commit the crime, said Dr. Sara West, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine.
"A delusion would have to be specific and related to the crime that was committed," she said. Additionally, defense lawyers have to show that their client didn't grasp that what he was doing was wrong.
"There are a lot of hoops to jump through," West said. Only about 1 percent of all felony criminal cases in the state use insanity defense. Of those, only about 15 percent are successful.
The filing now sets in motion a process where mental health experts will examine the 18-year-old Lane. The prosecution will get to pick one expert, the defense attorneys could have him evaluated by multiple experts and a judge can ask for an additional examination.
West said the experts would look at Lane's mental health history and his actions and demeanor prior to and right after the shooting occurred.
"Were they doing odd or unusual things before the crime or after the crime," she said. "They will be looking for evidence of a psychotic episode."
His attorneys will have to prove he has a severe mental illness -- such as schizophrenia or a mood disorder with psychotic features -- and not just a personality disorder or an addiction, West said.
West said those factors are harder -- but not impossible -- to find in younger defendants like Lane.
West also said that a psychotic episode can last days or weeks and that in some cases people can function somewhat normally enough to plan actions.
What is much harder is proving that the person didn't recognize what they were doing was wrong. In Ohio, she said, there is not a concrete definition as to whether that means legally wrong or morally wrong.
The plea could push back the expected Nov. 12 trial date in the case. Geauga County Common Pleas Judge David Fuhry had said he wanted the trial under way before the holiday season.
Prosecutors are against any further delays, saying they would prolong the suffering of the victims and their families.
Lane was indicted in June in the shooting Feb. 27 at Chardon High School. He is charged with three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder and one count of felonious assault. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.
A police report said Lane admitted firing 10 shots from a .22-caliber semiautomatic Ruger handgun, a weapon he told authorities he had obtained from an uncle's home the night before the shooting. Demetrius Hewlin, 16; Russell King Jr., 17; and Daniel Parmertor, 16; were killed.
After his arrest, Lane told a sheriff's deputy that he had "killed a bunch of people" but that he didn't know why he fired the shots, according to testimony at a hearing in May.
By Rachel Dissell, The Plain Dealer