A victim who was paralyzed for more than half her life after a classmate shot her in the 1997 school massacre has criticized authorities for not immediately refusing to release him on parole after this week’s hearings.
Michelle Carnell, 39, spoke Tuesday before two members of the Kentucky State Parole Board. He was serving a life sentence for shooting three of his classmates at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky and wounding five others when he was 14.
Missy Jenkins Smith, 40, was among the injured. Sitting in her wheelchair, she gave emotional victim testimony via video in front of board members the day before Carnell appeared. He told the board he was on three psychiatric medications but was still hearing voices and not “paying attention” to his specific diagnoses.
While watching his testimony, Ms Jenkins Smith was unimpressed by his plea and shared in a Facebook post on Tuesday that she “doesn’t think things went so well for Michael today”.
“I was surprised that the Board of Directors was unable to come to a unanimous decision, but I am confident that the entire Board of Directors will do the right thing next week. I have not seen any evidence that it is better today, after 25 years, or that it put a lot of effort into preparing for the hearing These, and I think the board of directors saw that, too.” “From my point of view, it’s working and safe in prison, and so are we here. Let’s keep it that way.”
Ladidra N. Jones, the chairwoman, during Carnell’s testimony indicated that the parole authorities had received letters from his legal counsel and family, but none from the inmate himself. When asked why on Tuesday, he said he believed everything was covered in the information sent by others.
Ms Jones noted that his mental health prognosis remained “poor” after decades of treatment and that he continued to experience “paranoid thoughts combined with violent visual images”.
Carnell acknowledged this and told the board that while he was still hearing voices, he had learned to control his actions and ask for help. He appeared tense and agitated during the hour-long interview with Ms. Jones and fellow board member Larry Brooke.
Ms Jones and fellow board member Larry Brooke heard Carnell’s testimony, but were unable to reach a unanimous decision on parole. On Monday, the full parole board will hear the case.
Carnell told the board on Tuesday that at 14, he knew right and wrong but blamed the massacre on “a combination of factors.”
“I was hearing things, and I was very suspicious,” he told the board. “And for years, I’ve felt, that I feel alienated and different, and I think when I started developing mental health issues, it fueled that — and that kind of… made my mental health problems worse, I spent those years feeling that.”
He told the council, “I was 14 at the time, and I hadn’t really experienced anything in life. I didn’t know exactly what impact I would have.”
Nicole Hadley, 14 years old; Jessica James, 17 years old; and Kayce Steger, 15. One of the five wounded, Mrs. Jenkins Smith, considered Carnill a friend and knew him well, though she told the board that he should remain in prison.
“I want you to think about how long it took others to take care of him,” Missy, now married and a mother of two, told the board of directors. “From the age of 14 to the current age of 39, he has not had the responsibility to take care of himself and has been cared for for the past 25 years.
“How can anyone say with confidence that he can do this for the rest of his life?” I asked, before adding: “There’s a lot of ‘what if’ — suppose he’d be responsible enough to take care of himself and never allow his mental illness to hurt anyone again? Continuing his life in prison is the only way his victims can feel comfortable and safe without to be haunted.”
Also on Tuesday, Carnell told the board that his sister and parents, with whom he will initially live on any release, were supportive and promised to take him to any doctor appointments. He said he has been in three psychiatric treatments and will continue care abroad if released.
“I think I can do a lot of good things there,” Carnell said, adding that he would be content with a job in fast food or sanitation or whatever, really. “I think I could have been a good fit for the community. I think I could benefit the people as a whole.”
One of his victims, Holan Holm, who was shot in the head by Carnell and still has a scar on his hairline, argued Monday for his attacker’s release.
“I was still a kid,” said Holm, who was 14 at the time of the shooting and will turn 40 in December. “Everyone in the lobby of Heath High School that day, including Michael Carnell, was a kid. It took me 25 years to fully appreciate how little I knew that day – how much life I didn’t live and how far away I was from my adult thinking and abilities.”
Carnell went on to say that he felt responsible for the mass shooting epidemic that followed his actions. While he wasn’t the first to shoot at the school, Columbine followed shortly thereafter – in 1999 – and established the crimes as national horror. Carnell said he became suicidal and was taken to the hospital when he heard the news.
The family of Nicole Hadley, who was shot dead by Carnell on Monday, strongly opposed his release.
“Not only did he kill Nicole, he killed Casey and Jesse and tried to kill five other students,” Chuck Hadley told parole board members. “I think the killer should not be allowed out of prison and should serve the remainder of his life sentence.”
Gwen Hadley added that she “would not be able to see Nicole reach her goals, get married, have children, be an aunt.”
“We as a family miss her at all family events. Nicole will always miss her.”