Paducah and Heath probably have as much or more social capital as any town in America: there are dozens of clubs and activities that bring children and adults together. This is an enormous source of pride and enjoyment for many in the town, youth as well as adults. At the same time, these strong forms of community may be quite confining for youth who have other interests, by limiting the array of social options available. The broader community’s interest in the fortune of the sports teams at the school may have also reinforced the perceived permanence of a social hierarchy in which Carneal, as a marginal band member, was near the bottom. No questions were ever posed to Carneal by local police and lawyers about his perceptions of the community, so it is difficult to evaluate with confidence how important this was to his thinking at the time of the shooting.
Carneal was charged with three counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, and one count of burglary. He was 14 at the time of the shooting and was charged as an adult, as is customary in Kentucky when a youth of his age commits murder. Prosecution and defense prepared for a trial. Because the facts of the shooting were not in dispute, the major issue of contention was Carneal’s mental health. Mental health experts from both sides examined Carneal, and reached slightly different conclusions (stated above), but neither found that he was legally insane at the time of the shooting. Since an insanity defense was not possible and a trial would be an ordeal for the many witnesses, the defense agreed to a plea bargain the morning before the trial was to commence.
Carneal pleaded guilty but mentally ill to all charges and received life without parole for 25 years, the maximum sentence permissible under law given his age. The mentally ill plea does not reduce Carneal’s culpability under the law, but it does flag him as someone who would need psychiatric treatment during his incarceration. Carneal’s plea was also pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford (known as the Alford plea), which allows the defendant to avoid admitting guilt while acknowledging sufficient evidence for conviction. The Alford plea is frequently utilized in sexual harassment cases to protect the defendant’s reputation. According to one of the Carneal family attorneys, employing the Alford plea in this case might be advantageous in the civil suits that were looming.19
Tim Kaltenbach, the prosecutor in the case, said that he accepted the deal because Carneal had agreed to the maximum sentence. Most of the people in the broader community with whom we spoke felt that the sentence was fair or had no opinion about it and were glad that it had been settled without a trial. However, some of the families of the victims felt