JOPLIN, MO. Supporters of a teen accused of firing an assault rifle inside his middle school have been flooding the court with letters as the boy's attorneys seek to move the case out of adult court.
Thomas White, 14, is charged as an adult with two counts of first-degree assault and one count each of unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action. He is accused of firing a shot at Joplin's Memorial Middle School in October and of pointing the gun at school administrators. No one was injured.
He also is charged with attempted escape for allegedly trying to bolt from the Joplin juvenile detention center two days after the Oct. 9 shooting.
White has pleaded not guilty to all counts.
On Friday, White's public defenders were granted a two-week delay to depose witnesses and submit depositions in support of remanding the case to juvenile court. The hearing to consider that is set for July 20.
About a dozen people stood outside the courthouse before the hearing with signs proclaiming "Thomas is a child," "Lower Thomas' bail" and "Bullying is the explanation."
The court has received about 40 letters in support of White since June 29.
If convicted of all charges in adult court, he could face at least 49 years in prison, said public defender Brett Meeker. In juvenile court, he could be held no longer than his 21st birthday.
"When this happened, this was a 13-year-old kid who was facing a lot of problems," Meeker said. "He didn't feel like he had a place to turn."
The Jasper County prosecutor did not return phone calls seeking comment.