Judge sets date for Oxford shooter's sentencing for Sept. 29

A final day of testimony in the sentencing of the Oxford High School shooter ended with testimony from a final witness and closing statements.

Judge Kwame Rowe said he would announce his decision about whether the defendant should be sentenced to prison without the possibility of parole on Sept. 29. He also announced a sentencing date of Dec. 8.

The date the shooter is committed to prison will be in person, where victims of the 2021 mass shooting will have the opportunity to address the defendant. Before then will be a virtual hearing where Rowe will meet with the prosecution and defense.

Friday was the fourth day of the required hearing in the Pontiac court, which is necessary to determine how long the shooter should be in prison. 

Previous testimony from victims and psychologists painted a grim picture of the shooter's actions and his headspace in the months and days leading up to the mass killing of four students. Seven others were injured.

On the final day, both Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald and defense attorney Paulette Loftin made their pitches for why the shooter should or shouldn't spend the rest of his life in prison.

The first two days of the hearing included disturbing details about the shooter's plan to "be the next school shooter" as is verbalized in a video recorded before the tragic event. There was also emotional testimony from a teacher who was face to face with the shooter.

"At that time, I sent my husband a text message that just said 'active shooter'," said Molly Darnell. 

During the second day of testimony, there was equally heart-wrenching statements given survivors of the shooting, who witnessed the terror in Nov. 2021. That includes 17-year-old Heidi Allen and 16-year-old Keegan Gregory, the latter of which was face-to-face with the shooter before escaping.

"When he signaled me with the gun, I ran behind is back," Gregory said. "When I saw his body, I realized I was going to die."

The third day of testimony was from a witness from the defense, who made the argument the shooter was a ‘feral child’ and mentally unwell. 

During the final day of testimony, Dr. Lisa Anacker who specializes in forensic psychiatry testified as a rebuttal witness for the prosecution. In her estimation, the shooter did not have a mental illness at the time of the incident. 

Anacker interviewed the shooter over a 5-hour period, determining that while it was not normal for him to hear voices telling him to kill as indicated in text messages he's sent, he does not suffer from hallucinations or enter periods of psychosis.

She also rebuked the conclusion of the defense's witness who said the shooter was mentally unwell and that would have contributed to his decision to shoot his classmates.

"I took into account what the defendant told me. But I also looked at the objective data in the case," she said. "For example, that includes videos of the defendant after the shooting in the police sub-station. In those videos, he wasn't exhibiting signs of psychosis."

"He's communicating clearly, calmly, and appears collected, suggesting a reality-oriented processing," she added.

While the defendant said he thought about carrying out the shooting for months and had a fascination with violence, his behavior indicated otherwise. And up until the shooting and in the moments afterward, he didn't express behavior to indicate he had a mental disability.

The prosecution rested its case shortly after 11 a.m., followed by closing arguments. 

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What is a Miller hearing?

Miller hearings, which are named after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2012 Miller v. Alabama ruling, are used to decide if life without parole sentences are appropriate for children. 

The shooter pleaded guilty to four counts of murder, one count of terrorism, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm while in the commission of a felony after the Nov. 30, 2021 shooting. However, he cannot be sentenced until a judge considers his age since he is a teenager facing life in prison. 

He was 15 when he committed the shooting. Had he been an adult, he would have automatically been given a life sentence without parole.

However, his age means certain factors must be considered before such a sentence is handed down.

According to FOX 2's Charlie Langton, it will come down to two things: the severity of the crime balanced with the age of the shooter.

He could get life in prison, if Rowe sides with the prosecution, or he could get at least 40 years in prison if Rowe sees his age as a larger factor.

What happens next?

Rowe will weigh factors such as the shooter's age, life circumstances, and crime circumstances. This could take several days. After the Miller hearing is done, Rowe will announce his decision at a later date, and his sentencing will be scheduled.

Life sentences can still be imposed on children, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that prevents those kinds of punishments. However, a special hearing is first required. It enables juveniles with extreme sentences to argue why they should be allowed release back into society.

He previously requested that Rowe remove the life without parole possibility from his sentence, but Rowe declined.