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Archive for Friday, August 4, 2006

AG dismisses most serious charge in case of school shooting plot

August 4, 2006

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Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline has dismissed the most serious charge against one of five teenagers accused of planning to attack their high school and turned all five cases over to the Cherokee County prosecutor, a spokesman said Thursday.

The five students, all from Columbus, were arrested April 20 after a message about an alleged plot for shootings at Riverton High School in southeast Kansas appeared on the Web site MySpace.com.

James Tillman, 16, had been charged by the state in May with felony solicitation of first-degree murder, punishable by 55 to 247 months in prison and a fine of $100,000.

However, Tillman will now face one felony juvenile count each of incitement to riot and making a criminal threat, said Jan Lunsford, a spokesman for Kline.

Another member of Kline's staff, spokeswoman Sherriene Jones, said dismissal of the more serious charge resulted from further investigation since May.

"The attorney general's office only modifies charges when we feel a charge is no longer appropriate based on the evidence," she said.

Kline's office took charge of the case initially at the request of Cherokee County Attorney Michael Goodrich. But Lunsford said Goodrich is now handling the prosecutions because the attorney general's office does not handle juvenile cases.

The other four teens accused in the plot - Caleb Byrd, 16, Robert Hunt, 17, Andrew Jaeger, 15, and Charles "Coy" New, 18 - face the same charges. New is the only one charged as an adult, but Goodrich will handle the case because the charges are the same as those against the juveniles.

In May, the state asked to try all five students as adults, but state prosecutors withdrew that request last month. Defense attorneys say the threat was not as severe as Kline's office first alleged.

All the minors were released from detention last month, and New posted bond, said Tillman's attorney, Samuel Marsh. All five are scheduled to appear in court Aug. 9 - New for a preliminary hearing and the other four for status hearings.

Lunsford said Tillman still faces possible penalties of 12 to 40 months in prison and fines of up to $200,000. The teen has been under house arrest since mid-July, Marsh said.

"The evidence wouldn't support the solicitation of murder charge, but I don't think this makes it any easier," said Marsh. "These are still serious charges that these kids are facing, and having personal felonies on your record can have serious repercussions."

Authorities have said the five students planned to wear black trench coats and disable the school's camera system before starting a shooting rampage on April 20, the seventh anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.

Sheriff's deputies found guns, ammunition, knives and coded messages in the bedroom of one suspect and references to Armageddon in two suspects' school lockers.

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