Ohio School Shooting Suspect Thomas Lane: What’s Aggravated Murder?

Was it “aggravated murder” when Thomas Lane, a 17-year-old high school student, killed three other high school students and injured 2 others this past Monday in Ohio? Or, was it murder? Or, was it manslaughter? A jury of 12 will likely decide Lane’s fate.

Lane was charged today in juvenile court with 3 counts of aggravated murder, 2 counts of attempted aggravated murder and 1 felony assault charge. It’s up to the judge to decide whether Lane is tried as an adult or a juvenile. However, in Ohio, a 16-17 year old defendant who uses a firearm faces being tried as an adult rather than as a juvenile. And, the death penalty is off the table due to 2005 US Supreme Court decision that prohibits juvenile death penalty as it violates the 8th Amendment (“cruel and unusual punishment”).

If the prosecution can prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Lane acted “purposefully and with prior calculation and design, cause the death of another” when he allegedly committed the killings of Demetrius Hewlin, Russell King Jr, and Daniel Parmertor, Lane could be convicted of aggravated murder. (Ohio RC Section 2903.01). This charge is similar to a first-degree (premeditated) murder charge in most states.

Ohio Legislature has defined “calculation and design”  as :

“studied care in planning or analyzing the means of the crime, as well as a scheme compassing the death of another. Neither the degree of care nor the length of time the offender takes to ponder the crime beforehand are critical factors in themselves, but they must amount to more than momentary deliberation”. (1974 Committee Comment).

Lane admits he went to school on Monday morning with a .22 pistol and a knife, but, is that proof of “prior calculation and design”?

And, according to the prosecution, Lane claims he shot “randomly”, thus, no prior calculation or design in the killings? The defense will likely argue it to negate any aggravated murder charges. And, without the intent to kill the victims, he didn’t commit murder (“purposely cause the death of another”), the defense may argue.

Maybe, instead, Lane committed a lesser charge, voluntary manslaughter (“sudden rage after serious provocation reasonably sufficient to incite the use of deadly force”)? Yet, there is no evidence that Lane was provoked.

Or, maybe, Lane was simply negligent (involuntary manslaughter) by using a gun at school?

If convicted of aggravated murder as an adult, he faces life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as to each count. If instead, he is convicted of murder, Lane faces 15 to life. And, a manslaughter conviction carries less time in prison. If he is tried as a juvenile and convicted, he faces detention until he is 21 years old.

Clearly, his difficult childhood will matter to possibly mitigate the charges and the sentence. Being raised initially by parents who were both convicted of domestic violence gave Lane role models who used violence to solve problems. As a former prosecutor of domestic violence,  I was not surprised to learn that their son, tragically, acted out in violence.

A terrible, terrible tragedy.

Simply my opinion, what say you?

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