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Published: 4/2/2004

Indictment says McCoy was gunman in 12 cases; prosecutors pursue possible death penalty

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - A grand jury yesterday indicted the Columbus man arrested in the serial highway shootings on charges that could put him on death row or in prison for the rest of his life.

The indictment charges Charles A. McCoy, Jr., in 12 of the 24 shootings that terrorized residents in central Ohio for nearly four months and made national and world news.

The aggravated murder charge is for the Nov. 25, 2003, shooting death of Gail Knisley, 62, along the southern section of the outer belt that circles Columbus.

A friend, Mary Cox, was driving Mrs. Knisley, a Washington Court House resident, to a doctor's appointment. A bullet ripped through the driver's side door, grazed Mrs. Cox, and struck Mrs. Knisley on the left side, killing her.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said the 24-count indictment alleges that Mrs. Knisley's death was part of a "course of conduct involving the purposeful killing of or attempt to kill two or more persons.''

Neither Mr. O'Brien nor Mr. McCoy's attorneys would discuss a possible plea agreement.

A trial could be held in four months to one year, Mr. O'Brien said.

Joshua Dressler, an Ohio State University law professor, said he believes a plea agreement will be reached in which Mr. McCoy would plead guilty to reckless manslaughter and other lesser charges that would put him behind bars, but spare his life.

"I think the prosecutor is stretching a lot to make this a capital murder case. The case is a fairly weak one. From what we can tell, it is hard to see the case for believing that the killing was intentional and that all of the other shootings were cases of attempted murder," Mr. Dressler said.

But Don Fitch, whose mother's unoccupied home in the Columbus suburb of Obetz was struck by gunfire on Nov. 30 or Dec. 1 last year, said Mr. McCoy should get the death penalty if convicted.

"It will send the message, 'If you are stupid enough to shoot at moving vehicles, it could cost you your life.' The Knisley family lost a grandmother and a mother for absolutely no reason," Mr. Fitch said.

The indictment charges Mr. McCoy with 12 shootings from Oct. 19, 2003, to the last known shooting, which was Feb. 14. Tony Hall's Chevy Suburban was struck by a bullet on the right-front fender, as a gunman fired from an overpass along I-70 east in Licking County, about 15 miles east of Columbus. Mr. Hall was not injured.

Before yesterday, investigators had said nine of the shootings were linked by tests on bullet fragments found at the scenes.

Since investigators obtained Mr. McCoy's 9mm semiautomatic handgun, they have linked bullet casings from three more shootings to that gun, Mr. O'Brien confirmed yesterday.

At a preliminary hearing last Tuesday, prosecutors disclosed that Mr. McCoy, who lived with his mother in Columbus about half a mile from I-270 south, bought a 9mm Beretta at a Columbus gun shop on Sept. 30, 2003.

"That's the only gun that we're aware of that was involved in any of the shootings," Mr. O'Brien said.

In addition to the shooting death of Mrs. Knisley and the attempted murder of Mrs. Cox, Mr. McCoy was charged with attempted murder and felonious assault in seven other shootings in which vehicles were struck along I-270, I-71 in Franklin, Madison, and Fayette counties; and I-70 in Licking County.

"We would have to prove that the defendant acted in a manner in which he attempted to purposefully cause the death of another person," Mr. O'Brien said.

All of the offenses have gun specifications that would add three years of prison time on top of any sentence, Mr. O'Brien said.

Other charges could be filed against Mr. McCoy, Mr. O'Brien said.

The shootings began in May, 2003, along a five-mile stretch of I-270 south, but a task force of federal, state, and Columbus area law enforcement officers was not formed until Mrs. Knisley's death last November.

A relative of Mr. McCoy alerted authorities last month that his father had taken two 9mm guns from his son. Two shotguns were also confiscated from the suspect's home, according to authorities.

On March 15, Mr. McCoy was named as a suspect in the series of 24 shootings, and two days later, he was arrested without a struggle outside his motel room in Las Vegas.

The grand jury heard testimony over three days before returning the 18-page indictment yesterday afternoon.

Mr. McCoy is set to be arraigned next week, either Monday or Wednesday, in Franklin County Common Pleas Court and bond would be set.

Mr. McCoy's attorneys yesterday said they will consult with Mr. McCoy, who is being held in the Franklin County jail, on what his plea will be.

Options include a "not guilty by reason of insanity" plea, but that approach places the burden of proof on the defendant.

In a missing persons report filed with Columbus police two days before Mr. McCoy's arrest, his mother described him as a paranoid schizophrenic.

James Drew can be reached at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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