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Heath shooter files new motions

BY ANDREA MOORE amoore@paducahsun.com

New motions in the case of Heath High School shooter Michael Carneal are elongating a 16-year court battle.

Carneal, now 31, who opened fire on a group of classmates the morning of Dec. 1, 1997, filed new motions in February in McCracken Circuit Court. He has been in prison since 1998, when he pleaded guilty to killing three students and injuring five others.

Carneal is moving for his conviction and judgment to be vacated, among other post-conviction motions. Carneal argued that his counsel was ineffective for advising him to make an Alford plea during the original proceedings, and maintains the trial court was wrong for accepting his plea. Carneal was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

An Alford plea allows a defendant to maintain innocence, while acknowledging there would be enough evidence to obtain a conviction at trial.

Carneal also argues that he was not certified as mentally ill before the court accepted his plea. He contends that his due process rights were violated because he was incompetent to enter a plea and because he was not given a mandatory youthful offender hearing.

Carneal also filed motions asking for a hearing, appointment of counsel and to disqualify the trial judge from reviewing his motions. Judge Jeff Hines presided over the court hearings for Carneal. He's now retired.

Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Raymond McGee filed a response to Carneal's motions last week.

McGee argued in his response that Carneal previously exhausted all remedies available for a defendant and has already raised the same issues through his court-appointed counsel.

McGee points out that the same claims have been denied at the trial court level and by the Kentucky Supreme Court and U.S. District Court.

"There is nothing that prohibits Carneal from filing these motions but his claims are meritless and have already been addressed by higher courts," McGee said.

Carneal filed for state post-conviction relief in 2004 and for federal habeas corpus relief in 2009. He is serving his sentence at the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange. He will be eligible for parole in 2023 under the details of his plea agreement.

Carneal's motions are under advisement with McCracken Circuit Judge Craig Clymer. No hearing has been set for review.

Contact Andrea Moore, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8684.

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