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Published: Sunday, 11/21/2004

Ohio sniper case may put video games on trial

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Thompson: He's not part of Charles McCoy, Jr.'s defense. Thompson: He's not part of Charles McCoy, Jr.'s defense.
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COLUMBUS - A Florida attorney is agitating to make violent video games the key issue in the defense of a Columbus man who is charged in a series of highway shootings that terrified the Columbus area for nearly four months and made world news.

In May, attorney John B. "Jack" Thompson asked the judge presiding over the aggravated murder case of Charles McCoy, Jr., to reveal what authorities found when they searched the Columbus residence where he lived with his mother.

Mr. McCoy is charged in 12 shootings that included the Nov. 25, 2003, death of Gail Knisley, a 62-year-old grandmother, along a southern section of the Columbus outer belt. Other vehicles were struck along I-270, I-71 in Franklin, Madison, and Fayette counites, and I-70 in Licking County.

Judge Charles Schneider of Franklin County Common Pleas Court approved Mr. Thompson's motion in June. Mr. McCoy's defense team had opposed it.

The list of items found in the search of Mr. McCoy's residence included the violent video games State of Emergency, Max Payne, Dead to Rights.

When Mr. McCoy was captured in Las Vegas on March 17, authorities found a game console and The Getaway, in his motel room, along with a 9mm Beretta, ammunition, and $4,694 in cash.

One review of The Getaway states: "Bleeding equals dying, check the barrel before you shoot, and if your car is on fire, it's probably time to get out and walk. "

Mr. Thompson, who is based in Coral Gables, Fla. and is not part of Mr. McCoy's defense team, didn't stop at his motion to have the search warrant unsealed.

He asked Judge Schneider to present the evidence to the 29-year-old Mr. McCoy, who is being held in a single cell at the Franklin County jail. Judge Schneider denied that motion, but Mr. Thompson repeated his request on Nov. 11.

"The failure of this court to perform that simple task, in order that the defendant might reasonably defend himself, will unfortunately lay the groundwork upon which to challenge any adjudication of guilt, whether by trial or by plea," Mr. Thompson wrote.

The argument that there is a link between Mr. McCoy's actions and violent video games is critical because Mr. McCoy faces the death penalty if convicted, Mr. Thompson said.

The issue isn't whether violent video games turned Mr. McCoy into a killer, Mr. Thompson said. The issue is whether those games "trained" a mentally ill person to shoot at vehicles, with one bullet killing Mrs. Knisley, he said.

Ed Lewis, an associate editor at IGN Entertainment - which has several Web sites for video game and entertainment fans - interviewed Mr. Thompson last summer for ign.com.

"He throws away a lot of information that most people do not go on violent rampages. These games sell in the millions. There should be millions of mass murderers," said Mr. Lewis, a graduate of Ohio's Oberlin College.

"We've always had incredibly violent media. People always have talked about war and killings. Video games are the latest iteration of that. To pick on that is to try to stop a side of human nature that will be there anyway. The best idea is to keep it out of the hands of minors. There are measures in place like the ratings systems, but they will get into their hands anyway - and that's where parents have to be the guardians," Mr. Lewis said.

On Sept. 1, attorneys for Mr. McCoy changed his plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity. Relatives have said Mr. McCoy spent a lot of time playing video games in the basement of his mother's house.

Mr. McCoy's attorneys have said he has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia since 1986 and did not always take his medication. His attorneys have argued that Mr. McCoy, who received Social Security disability benefits, didn't know right from wrong when the shootings occurred.

Judge Schneider has determined that Mr. McCoy is competent to stand trial because he receives medication at the Franklin County jail.

S. Michael Miller, one of Mr. McCoy's attorneys, declined to discuss whether violent video games will be used in Mr. McCoy's defense or whether he is pursuing a plea agreement with Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien.

"As a person, not as Charles McCoy's attorney, I think these video things can be very damaging to people," Mr. Miller said. "I sort of believe if you see enough of this violence, I think it is surreal. I really don't disagree probably with some of the things [Mr. Thompson] is saying," said Mr. Miller, a former Franklin County prosecutor.

A relative of Mr. McCoy didn't return messages seeking comment.

Mr. Miller said Mr. Thompson is not being disruptive in Mr. McCoy's case because he's "not paying attention to him at all."

"Most things are not black and white. There are a lot of issues. He seems to see everything in black and white," he said.

Mr. Miller said he received an e-mail on Friday from Mr. O'Brien about Mr. Thompson filing a complaint with the California Bar Association against attorney Mark Geragos, who is representing Scott Peterson. The complaint alleged that the Los Angeles lawyer violated ethics rules in the display of a replica of Mr. Peterson's boat - on a parcel Mr. Geragos owns near the courthouse - as the jury deliberated in the Laci Peterson murder trial.

Mr. Geragos had been barred from showing the jury a video re-enactment that he said would show how hard it would have been for Mr. Peterson to throw his wife's body over the edge of the boat.

"I laughed and sent it over to Mark Collins," said Mr. Miller, referring to another of Mr. McCoy's attorneys.

Mr. Thompson, who grew up in Cleveland and received an undergraduate degree from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, is no stranger to controversy.

In 1989, he became the first attorney to win decency fines from the Federal Communications Commission, in a complaint filed against shock radio disc jockeys. He also took part in the federal trial against the rappers 2 Live Crew that found one of their songs to be obscene.

Mr. Thompson filed a complaint about a 2003 broadcast by radio shock jock Howard Stern that led to the Federal Communications Commission fining six Clear Channel stations $495,000 in April.

But it was in 1999, when he represented the parents of three girls killed by 14-year-old Michael Carneal in Paducah, Ky., that Mr. Thompson turned his attention to the video-game industry.

Carneal played the violent video games Mortal Kombat and Doom. Mr. Thompson filed a products liability lawsuit in federal court against video game makers, but it was dismissed.

Carneal pleaded guilty but mentally ill and was sentenced to life in prison with possible parole after 25 years.

"I am convinced from taking on the movie and radio industry that this is by far the most pernicious entertainment modality ever created, by virtue of it is interactive. You are doing the violence," Mr. Thompson said in a recent interview.

Mr. Thompson cites a study by the National Institute on Media and the Family that teenagers who were not "naturally aggressive" and devote a lot of time to playing violent video games are nearly 10 times more likely to get involved in fights than teens who were "non-aggressive" and don't play violent video games.

Video game companies have rejected any link between their games and violence.

Earlier this month, Mr. Thompson and fellow Miami attorney Ray Reiser sued Best Buy in a Florida court, charging that the retailer had violated its "policy" by selling the recently released Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to children.

The video game is rated M for mature, and the company had said it wouldn't sell it to those under the age of 17.

Mr. Thompson has said he wants companies to stop marketing and selling violent video games to children.

"If some wacked-out adult wants to spend his time playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, one has to wonder why he doesn't get a life, but when it comes to kids, it has a demonstrable impact on their behavior and the development of the frontal lobes of their brain," Mr. Thompson told IGN Entertainment, citing studies conducted at Harvard University and Indiana University.

Mr. Thompson also said "brains don't stop growing" until the age of 25, and he referred to Mr. McCoy as the "functional equivalent of a 15-year-old."

Contact James Drew at: jdrew@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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