CHARDON, Ohio — T.J. Lane is facing multiple life sentences after changing his plea on Tuesday morning in the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas.
On the day before the one-year mark of the shootings at Chardon High School, Lane, 18, changed his plea to guilty from not guilty by reason of insanity. He admitted to killing three students and wounding three others last February 27 in the high school cafeteria.
“Are you freely and voluntarily entering pleas of guilty to these charges and specifications here today?” asked Judge David Fuhry. “Yes, your honor,” Lane responded.
Shortly before Lane changed his plea, Judge Fuhry ruled he was competent to stand trial, following a second competency evaluation.
It was another setback for Lane’s legal team.
Previously, Judge Fuhry ruled that statements made by Lane to police after the shootings could be used in court. He also ruled that recorded conversations between Lane and his relatives at the police station would be allowed into evidence.
“This [plea deal] is something that has been under discussion with the prosecutor’s office for quite some time,” said Ian Friedman, Lane’s defense attorney. “It is hoped that this decision will bring closure to what has been a tragic year for the victims, their families and loved ones, T.J.’s family and the entire community both near and far.”
Daniel Parmertor, 16, Demetrius Hewlin, 16, and Russell King, Jr., 17, were killed in the school cafeteria. Joy Rickers and Nick Walczak were hurt. A sixth student was grazed by a bullet.
“Today’s result is the same that would have occurred had we had a jury trial,” said Geauga County Prosecutor Jim Flaiz. “The defendant pled guilty to all six counts in the indictment and all six firearm specifications and that is the same result that we would have expected, had we had a jury trial.”
Lane was 17 years old at the time of the crime and was charged as an adult with several counts of aggravated murder, attempted murder and felonious assault. He did not face the death penalty, since he was a juvenile at the time of the crime.
“The community, the families, the victims – what they’ve told us – and what we believe is that, this defendant never leaving a prison cell would be the most fair and just result that we could have in this case,” said Flaiz.
In a statement to FOX 8 News, former Geauga County Prosecutor, Rep. David Joyce said: “As we approach the one year anniversary of this horrific tragedy, it’s comforting that the parents, family and friends of the three young victims will possibly be able to achieve some sense of closure. Nothing will ever come close to replacing the love and happiness these children brought to their families, but perhaps they will find some small comfort in being able to close this chapter of their lives. It goes without saying that the Chardon community will never forget Danny, Demetrius, and Russell and will continue to pray for these young men and their families.”
Lane is facing three life sentences without parole, plus additional time for attempted aggravated murder and felonious assault. He will be sentenced by Judge Fuhry on March 19.
At sentencing, defendants have the chance to present to the judge mitigating circumstances, which are reasons why they believe they shouldn’t receive the maximum sentence.
Fox 8 News, however, is told Lane does not plan to do that.
Flaiz said it’s his understanding Lane does not want his defense team to submit any mitigating circumstances prior to sentencing. Mitigating circumstances could be anything from mental health issues to circumstances concerning his upbringing.
If Lane doesn’t present any type of mitigation, the judge will base his decision from the case file and victim impact statements.
Victims as well as family members will be able to address the court before sentencing to let the judge know what they believe would be an appropriate sentence.
“The state is going to ask the judge to fashion a sentence that is just and appropriate under the circumstances of this case, and we feel confident that the victims, the families and the community will see justice done,” said Flaiz.