CHARDON, Ohio -- An Ohio teenager accused of opening fire in a high school cafeteria this winter, killing three people and wounding two others, exhibits signs of mental illness but is competent to undergo juvenile court proceedings, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
Thomas "T.J." Lane, a tall, lanky 17-year-old, sat quietly, staring downward and at the witness stand, as Case Western Reserve University psychiatry professor Phillip Resnick outlined the symptoms of his mental illness.
The suspect faces juvenile charges of murder, attempted murder, and assault in the Feb. 27 shooting at Chardon High School, nestled in a small town about 30 miles west of Cleveland. Red ribbons remain wrapped around trees and light poles there in remembrance of those who died.
Young Lane's age and the severity of the charges require that his case be moved to an adult court if a judge finds that there is probable cause that he committed the crime. A hearing on that issue is scheduled for May 24.
Prosecutors said young Lane confessed to pulling out a 22-caliber pistol and firing in the school's cafeteria while he was waiting for a bus to take him to an alternative school for students with academic and behavioral problems.
After interviewing the teen for more than six hours in early April and combing through his previous court and treatment records, Dr. Resnick determined that the suspect suffers from "psychosis not otherwise specified." That means that his symptoms do not easily fit the definition of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or other commonly known maladies.
Dr. Resnick testified that the youth has a history of depression, bouts of which sometimes last for a month or longer, and exhibits evidence of emotional blunting or flattening, meaning he does not experience the same range of emotions that most people do.
He said the teenager has a history of auditory hallucinations, though he did not see evidence of them during an evaluation on April 2 and 3, and sometimes has "involuntary fantasies that intrude themselves on his mind."
The doctor, under the direction of Geauga County Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Grendell, did not provide further details. The suspect's evaluation remains under court seal.
"He does suffer from a mental disease, but that mental disease does not interfere with his ability to understand the proceedings," Dr. Resnick said. He noted that young Lane told him, "The role of the defense attorneys was to get him as little jail time as possible and the role of the prosecutors was to get him as much jail time as possible."
County Prosecutor David Joyce noted that Dr. Resnick described the suspect as "clear, logical, and coherent." He asked Dr. Resnick whether records of any previous evaluations, conducted before the shooting and before young Lane had a chance to meet with his former legal team, mentioned any evidence of hallucinations.
Dr. Resnick said they did not "but he had not been treated by a psychiatrist."
After listening to about an hour of testimony, Judge Grendell issued his ruling.
The defendant's new lawyer, Cleveland attorney Ian Friedman, said he would not contest the ruling, but asked for the opportunity to revisit the matter should the youth exhibit further signs of illness.
Wednesday's ruling was meant to reflect only on the suspect's ability to understand the proceedings, not on his mental culpability or on his sanity, Judge Grendell said.
He is being held in the Portage Detention Center, about 45 minutes south of Chardon.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Liz Navratil is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
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