Thursday, September 2, 2004

Attorneys for accused
shooter face legal tangle

By Carrie Spencer
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Attorneys for the man charged in a series of central Ohio highway shootings must walk many tightropes after filing an innocent by reason of insanity plea.

Charles A. McCoy Jr.'s change from his earlier not guilty plea was filed at Franklin County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday, his 29th birthday. McCoy has paranoid schizophrenia, according to court documents and his attorneys.

Now, the three-man legal team must still try to cast doubt on the 24 charges accusing McCoy of being behind 12 of the shootings from October through February. But jurors - while instructed to presume him innocent - will know the plea means the defense is prepared to show his severe illness kept him from understanding right from wrong.

In doing so, the attorneys would paint a picture of a delusional man who felt he must shoot at random motorists before a jury who will be looking at a calm, collected and medicated defendant.

"It is the hardest defense of all the recognized defenses on the books," said Joshua Dressler, an Ohio State University law professor. "It is in general a losing plea. It is a plea of last resort."

McCoy could be sentenced to death if convicted of aggravated murder in the slaying of a 62-year-old woman in November. She was the only person hit in the more than 20 shootings at cars, a house and an elementary school that occurred mostly around the Interstate 270 beltway.

McCoy agrees with the plea change, attorney Mark Collins said.

S. Michael Miller, another of McCoy's attorneys, said the team changed the plea at the advice of two psychiatrists who examined McCoy. Judge Charles Schneider ruled Tuesday that while medicated, McCoy is competent to stand trial, set to begin Jan. 7.

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