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Iowa Coach Verdict: Jury finds Mark Becker Guilty of Murder

(Family Photo)
(AP Photo/John Gaps III)
(AP Photo/Matthew Putney)
ALLISON, Iowa (CBS/AP) An Iowa jury took 24 hours, over nearly four days, to find Mark Becker guilty of first degree murder in the June 2009 shooting death of iconic high school football coach Ed Thomas, in Parkersburg, Iowa, about 100 miles north of Des Moines.

Photo: Ed Thomas.

The facts of the case against Becker were not at issue; 20 terrified teenagers witnessed Becker gun down his former football coach Ed Thomas in the Aplington-Parkersburg High School weight room.

What was in question was whether Becker knew what he was doing was wrong.

Photo: Mark Becker in court after being convicted of murder March 2, 2010.

Jurors heard from defense attorneys that Becker's delusions were so severe that he didn't know right from wrong when he shot Thomas. Psychiatrists testified Becker believed invisible forces were pushing down on his eyes. Police interrogation videos showed him sitting alone, speaking to no one, swatting at the air.

Prosecutors acknowledged that Becker suffered from a mental illness, but said that he also coldly calculated the killing, taking practice shots with the .22-caliber pistol he used to kill Thomas and lying to people in his search for the coach.

Photo: Todd, left, and Aaron Thomas.

The day after the verdict, Ed Tomas' son Aaron told CBS' The Early Show that the family is relieved to have a verdict and to be able to start healing.

"Obviously, we're pleased with the verdict and the way the jury ruled. ... (But) none of this changes really anything. My dad's still gone," Aaron Thomas told Early Show's Harry Smith. "Hopefully, we can get out of the cameras' way from Parkersburg and go back to being a small town and begin healing."

The question of why Becker's delusions focused on Thomas remains unanswered. Thomas last coached Becker some six years before the shooting and Becker had spent significant time away from Parkersburg.

Defense psychiatrist Phillip Resnick, of Cleveland, said Becker believed Satan had possessed Thomas and that he was doing the community a favor -- and freeing Parkersburg's children -- by killing the coach.

Resnick and others who interviewed Becker about his mental status said Becker suffered from such intense delusions that he incorrectly believed Thomas and the members of Becker's old football team were sexually assaulting him, and that Thomas was trying to make Becker into a "sex slave."

Becker's mother, Joan, said the mental health support system in Parkersburg and Butler County failed her son. A psychiatrist in a Waterloo hospital agreed to his release just days after he was hospitalized following a violent incident and arrest. Police weren't notified when he was let out of the psychiatric unit.

"Ed Thomas was a victim of a victim," Joan Becker said. "Although Mark and we as his parents attempted to go through all the proper channels to get Mark the mental health treatment he desperately needed, the system failed miserably."

Becker faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. Sentencing is April 14.

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  • Carlin Miller

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