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Kentucky man who killed three classmates in 1997 is denied parole, will spend the rest of his life in prison

The Kentucky man who killed three students and wounded five others in a school shooting that took place 25 years ago will spend the rest of his life in prison without opportunities to seek parole, the Kentucky Parole Board voted on Monday.

Michael Carneal, who was 14 at the time of the massacre and is now 39, told parole board members last week that he would live with his parents and continue his mental health treatment if they agreed to release him. He admitted that he still hears voices like the ones that told him to steal a neighbor's pistol and fire it into the crowded lobby of Heath High School in 1997. However, Carneal said that with therapy and medication, he has learned to control his behavior.

The board voted 7-0 to deny parole, after deliberating in private for about 30 minutes. Carneal watched the vote over Zoom from the Kentucky State Reformatory. He sat hunched in a small chair as Kentucky Parole Board Chair Ladeidra Jones asked each member for their vote.

Jones then told Carneal that "due to the seriousness of your crime" he would serve out his life sentence in prison.

"After deliberating, Mr. Carneal, due to the seriousness of your crime ... your crime involved a weapon. You had lives taken, and the seriousness again, it is the decision of the parole board today to allow you to serve out the remainder of your sentence," said Jones during the Zoom call, which was published in part by Louisville-based CBS affiliate WLKY.

Carneal said only, "Yes, ma'am" and quickly left.

Several of those wounded in the shooting and relatives of those who were killed also spoke to the parole board panel last week. Most expressed their wishes for Carneal to spend the rest of his life in prison. Carneal told the panel there are days when he believes that he deserves to die for what he did, but other days when he thinks that he could still do some good in the world.

Heath High School shooting suspect Michael Carneal is escorted out of the McCracken County Courthouse after his arraignment in Paducah, Ky., Thursday, Jan. 15, 1998.  AP Photo/Courier Journal, Sam Upshaw Jr.

Jones earlier told Carneal their "number one charge is to maintain public safety." She informed him that his inmate file listed his mental health prognosis as "poor" and says he experiences "paranoid thoughts with violent visual imagery."

Speaking by videoconference from the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange last week, Carneal apologized to his victims, including the entire tight-knit community of Heath, just outside of Paducah. Killed in the Dec. 1, 1997, shooting were 17-year-old Jessica James, 15-year-old Kayce Steger, and 14-year-old Nicole Hadley, who Carneal said was a "very good friend" to him.

"I'm sorry for what I did," he said. "I know it's not going to change things or make anything better, but I am sorry for what I did."

Carneal was a 14-year-old freshman when he opened fire on a before-school prayer circle that met in the lobby each morning. He was given the maximum sentence for someone his age at the time, which was life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.

Prosecutor Daniel Boaz underscored the lasting repercussions for the families of the shooting victims in a letter to the parole board earlier this month, arguing against Carneal's release.

"I experienced and witnessed the immediate effects of Michael Carneal's actions on December 1, 1997, and have dealt with the effects of his actions since then," Boaz wrote, adding that victim's families have suffered losses "too vast to be put into words," and while imprisoning Carneal for life "may seem like a harsh penalty, it is only a pittance in comparison to what these families suffer."

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