By John Seewer
and Kantele Franko
A teen’s appeal over his life sentences for killing three students in a school shooting rampage in Northeast Ohio will revolve around his age and how the state handles serious crimes involving young people.
Prosecutors and T.J. Lane’s defense attorney will make their case before an appeals court today.
The hearing will be in the same courtroom where a smirking Lane wore a T-shirt with “killer” scrawled across it and gestured obscenely and cursed toward the victims’ families during his sentencing. He is not expected to attend.
Lane is serving three life sentences after pleading guilty in February 2013 to the shootings a year earlier at Chardon High School, east of Cleveland. Lane, who was 17 at the time, was waiting for a bus to his alternative school when he fired at students in the cafeteria, investigators said.
Daniel Parmertor and Demetrius Hewlin, both 16, and Russell King Jr., 17, were killed.
Three other students were wounded.
Investigators have said Lane admitted to the shooting but said he didn’t know why he did it.
Lane’s attorney is challenging an Ohio law that allowed his case to be transferred from juvenile court to adult court.
That law requires the move if a juvenile is 16 or 17, accused of one of the most severe offenses, and there is probable cause to believe he committed that act.
It violates the right to due process “because it prohibits the court from making any individualized determination of the appropriateness of the transfer of a particular child’s case to adult court,” Lane’s appeal said.
“Children are impulsive, reckless, easily influenced, and less able to get out of a crime-producing setting, so their crimes are less likely to be evidence that they are irredeemable,” the appeal said.
Another case before the Ohio Supreme Court that involves a 16-year-old sent to prison is challenging the same law.
Prosecutors say Lane gave up his right to appeal his sentence when he voluntarily pleaded guilty, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent and a recent Ohio case.
“Under the eyes of Ohio law [Lane’s] conduct was an adult criminal act,” Geauga County Prosecutor James Flaiz wrote in response to the appeal.
Flaiz also said that society generally holds older youth to a higher level of accountability.
“Why is it that we wait to allow children to drive until they are 16 years old? Why do children have to be 17 or older to see a Rated ‘R’ movie?” he wrote. “These age-oriented distinctions need to be drawn somewhere.”