Archive for Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Judge says student innocent in alleged school shooting plot

November 29, 2006

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— A judge on Tuesday found the final student charged in an alleged school shooting plot at Riverton High School not guilty of two misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to riot and disorderly conduct, his defense attorney said.

Cherokee County Judge Robert Fleming heard the case against Charles "Coy" New without a jury after a two-day trial that began Monday.

In his ruling, the judge said he was mindful of the amount of publicity the cases had received but said the state had failed to meet its burden of proof beyond a shadow of a doubt.

New, 18, was the only student out of the five charged to take his case to trial after all charges were reduced to misdemeanors. The other four students - Caleb Byrd, 16; Andrew Jaeger, 15; James Tillman, 17; and Robert Hunt, 17 - were sentenced earlier this year to probation until the end of the school year.

"My client all along has felt he wasn't guilty of a crime and hadn't done anything wrong - and that was the purpose of him wanting to stay in court," said defense attorney Robert Myers. "He is pleased with the decision reached. He is somewhat disturbed in this case he was perceived as guilty until he was proven innocent and that seems bothersome to him."

Cherokee County Attorney Michael Goodrich did not return calls for comment.

The alleged plot drew national attention after Sheriff Steve Norman said the teens planned to wear black trench coats and disable Riverton High School's camera system before starting the attack.

The five teenagers were arrested April 20 - the seventh anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado - after a message about an alleged plot to attack Riverton High School appeared on the Web site MySpace.com.

"I am still somewhat bothered that my client had to fight to prove his innocence - and was presumed guilty of the crime from get-go," said

New was in his senior year when he was arrested, and has since completed high school and is working, Myers said.

"He is looking forward to growing up, just like any other kid," Myers said.

The students initially were charged with one felony count each of incitement to riot and making a criminal threat. Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline then charged Tillman with felony solicitation to commit first-degree murder. But Kline's office later withdrew that charge and turned the entire case over to Goodrich.

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