The accused NCHS shooter will be back in juvenile court on Dec. 17 for the beginning of the bench trial. (Photo by Stephanie Pawlowski/WJBC)
By Zach Dietmeier
BLOOMINGTON - The accused Normal Community High School shooter will be tried as a juvenile.
A motion by the state to transfer the case to adult court was denied on Tuesday. Judge Elizabeth Robb cited evidence of significant and serious mental problems along with very youthful appearances and actions made by the defendant as factors in keeping the trial out of adult court. Judge Robb said while the student clearly went to school on Sept. 7 with intent to do serious, aggressive, and pre-meditated damage, the subject had no previous delinquency or history of violence.
Defense attorney Art Feldman was relieved by the decision but adds much work is left.
"Based on what happened, the state's attorney and I are going to have some discussions," said Feldman. "The parents and minor and I will also talk. We're kind of taking it one step at a time."
More details were also made available about the incident. According to affadavits from NCHS teacher Derrick Schonauer and students in the classroom at the time, the defendant claimed that he had intended to pull off the incident while at Evans Junior High the previous year but "didn't have the strength to do it."
The prosecution in the case presented a handwritten journal found in the home of the accused shooter. The writing was labeled "Plan Delta" and detailed a "revenge plot waiting for approval" from voices in the defendant's head. Experts testified the student was psychotic at the time of the shooting but was aware of the consequences of his actions. Feldman had no details of items taken in the original home search prior to Tuesday. The journal was not taken into evidence due to the short submission period and lenght of time held by Normal police detectives before presentation.
Additionally, State's Attorney Aaron Hornsby tried to present a heavily documented description of the events. The court heard from several detectives who painted the scene as it was told them by witnesses and seen firsthand.
Detective William Angus participated in a six and a half hour interview of the suspect the day of the incident on Sept. 7. Angus could tell everything was not normal.
"He would experience drastic change, from fidgeting to completely relaxed," Angus told the court. "When we asked him basic questions like what his phone number was, he would start then abruptly stop."
Angus said the student was adament that he "didn't trust that man," in reference to his father. The defendant also called the father "evil" several different times. Mental health therapist Kathy Vogel, working with the defendant since the day of the shooting, said he didn't like his living situation and claimed that the father could become physically and verbally abusive.
Angus also said the boy was in possession of three handguns, two knives, several loaded magazines, and tow hatchets the defendant called "hatchy." Students told authorities the student held some of the weapons up in front of the class and told them, "Don't think I won't shoot you."
NCHS Principal David Bollmann took the stand to describe deficiencies in writing as the only specialized help the student was receiving. Bollmann said the school had the defendant on an Individualized Education Plan of supervised study. He also said the 14-year old was by all indications an average student participating in regular classes.
Psychiatric evaluations have found the defendant to be more responsive after being placed on Geodon and Zoloft while in custody. Vogel said the defendant wants help and will comply with further treatment.
Feldman said the defendant is responding positively to psychiatric treatment.
"Well, from what I can tell you, he still gets distracted very easily," said Feldman. "Whether that is because of still existing auditory hallucinations or just being a distracted 14-year old boy, that I don't know."
Feldman added that he was happy with the judge's decision and that the prosecution had a large hill to climb.
The juvenile bench trial will begin on Dec. 17.
Zach Dietmeier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.