The man who killed three students when he was 14 years old will have to wait a little longer to see if he will be released on parole.
Two members of the Kentucky Parole Board were unable to reach a unanimous decision Tuesday at the parole hearing of Michael Carnell, who spent nearly 25 years in prison for the 1997 mass shooting at Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky.
Parole Board President Ladedra Jones said the parole board will consider his case on September 26 and make a decision after that.
Carnell, 39, defended his case Tuesday during his parole hearing.
“I’ve spent 25 years preparing for this day, and it still doesn’t look like it’s happening,” Carnell told Jones during the video parole hearing.
Karnell was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to three murders, five counts of attempted murder and one first-degree burglary. But Kentucky law requires minors to be considered on parole after 25 years.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Carnell said he’s received several mental health diagnoses and that he’s heard voices in his head for a long time — including on the day of the mass shooting.
“I could hear things. I was very suspicious. For years, I felt alienated and different,” Carnell said.
On December 1, 1997, he said, he heard a voice telling him to “take the gun out of my backpack, carry it in front of me, and shoot.”
“There is no justification or excuse for what I did,” Carnell said. “I offer an explanation. I realize there is no excuse for what I did.”
When asked if he still had voices in his head, Carnell said yes.
“Most of the time it’s the things that might hurt myself or something,” he said. For example, just a few days ago, Carnell said there was a voice telling him to jump down the stairs.
But Carnell said he now knows when to ignore such voices.
“Now I know that’s not something I should be doing,” he said. “And I am able not to do it and justify that it is not something I should do. And what I hear is not real.”
His public defender asked the Parole Board to recall that Carnell was only 14 years old during the mass shooting, had undiagnosed schizophrenia and was suffering from bullying and transitioning from middle school to high school.
In the quarter century since then, Carnell has “committed himself to treating his mental health, participating in the educational and professional programs available, and being a helpful and positive person within prison,” attorney Alana Meyer wrote this month.
“Despite his environment, he has worked hard to improve himself and make the most of his situation.”
A victims’ hearing was held on Monday, and Karnell faced significant opposition to his wanted release – from the local attorney general, family members of the victims and those who survived the mass shooting outside Heath High School.
Chuck and Gwen Hadley — his 14-year-old daughter Nicole Hadley, who was one of the young men murdered that day — addressed the board of directors on Monday, saying they missed Nicole’s smile, sense of humor and “great hugs.”
They told the board that they wanted Carnell to spend his life in prison, because he had never shown remorse or taken responsibility for those he had hurt and killed.
“We missed Nicole’s high school graduation, her college graduation, her wedding, her kids, our grandchildren and so many birthdays and holidays together,” Chuck Hadley told the board.
Christina Hadley Ellegud—who often visits the stone monument to commemorate her younger sisters, Jessica James and Case Steiger when she was having a difficult day—found Nicole on the floor after being shot.
She also told the board that she opposes Carnell’s parole, saying that Nicole did not get a chance to fulfill her dreams of graduating as a valedictorian, attending the University of North Carolina, working as a physical therapist in the WNBA, or running a camp for special needs children.
Nicole was sentenced to life imprisonment. Michael (pleded) for life imprisonment,” she said. “I think he should spend the rest of his life in prison. Nicole doesn’t get a second chance. why him? ”
But one survivor, who shot Karnell in the head, told the committee that he understood why people wanted to keep him in prison, but would vote to give the convicted killer another chance.
Survivor Holan Holm opened his testimony in which he recounted the day he was shot: “I was a fourteen-year-old child. I lay on the floor in the lobby of Heath High School, bleeding from the side of my head, and I thought I was going to die. I recited a prayer and prepared myself for death.”
He said it took dozens of food items to repair his head wound, but the mental and emotional scars run much deeper. Holm still struggles with the crowd, and is anxious if he sits down in a restaurant with his back to the door, he said.
He scans the room for danger and ways out. He said the fireworks and flying balloons cause panic, and every school that shoots forces him to relive the day he was shot.
But he said that when he thinks of Carnell, he thinks of his eldest daughter, 10, and he can’t imagine she maintains the same level he’d been dealing with as an adult.
“If mineral health experts think he can be successful on the outside, he should get that opportunity,” Holm said, saying he understands the anger people are feeling. “I feel that anger too, but when I feel that anger, I think of the 14-year-old boy who acted that day and I think of my kids, and I think the guy who became that boy should get a chance to try to do and be better.”
Missy Jenkins Smith played in the band with Carnell and remembers being bullied and bullied before the day he was shot at age 15.
From the wheelchair Carnell left her in, Smith said she could talk for hours about her struggles without using her legs—getting out of bed, showering, reaching lockers, getting in and out of cars, and “the embarrassment of private accommodations that should wherever you go.”
She said that where she is supposed to take care of her 12 and 15-year-olds, they instead take care of her. However, you will not be able to dance with them at their wedding.
In her letter to the Parole Board, Mayer said her client “demonstrated deep and genuine remorse and took responsibility for the shooting.” He has also endeavored to improve himself, maintain a 20-year remedial program, complete a GED and anger management program, and take college courses.
The attorney wrote that Carnell was suffering from early stages of schizophrenia – a disease difficult to diagnose in teenagers – at the time of the shooting.
Drawing on US Supreme Court cases suggesting that juvenile offenders have “greater prospects for reform,” Mayer introduced a re-entry plan showing that Carnell would receive a significant amount of support from his family and medical professionals.
Now based in Kentucky Penitentiary northeast of Louisville, Carnell will move with his parents in Cold Spring, across the state from Paducah, on parole, according to a re-entry plan submitted to the Parole Board.
The plan says his parents will help him with finances, employment, housing, transportation to doctor’s appointments and meetings with the parole officer, adding that he will be referred to mental health programs in nearby Cold Spring and Erlanger.
“Michael realizes that any apology sounds hollow but he sincerely regrets all the physical and emotional pain he has caused to his victims and the Heath High School community in general,” reads the re-entry plan. “Although there is nothing he can do now to erase this pain, he plans to contribute positively to society in any way he can.”
Attorney General Daniel Boaz told the board that he was the district attorney at the time of the shooting, which “shocked us to the core, to put it mildly.” He said the infamous nature of Carnill’s crime allowed authorities to treat him as an adult under Kentucky law, and the state should continue to treat him as an adult who should “pay for the consequences of his actions.”