Oxford High School shooter ruled to be eligible for life sentence without parole, not sentenced yet

It's been almost two years since an Oxford High School student brought gun to school and killed four innocent students. On Friday, we learned he can be sentenced to life in prison without parole. 

The shooter, who pleaded guilty in the fall of 2022, was not sentenced during a hearing on Friday – that's set for Dec. 8 – but the ruling from Judge Kwame Rowe was handed down. 

Rowe made his decision after several days of testimony during the summer over whether the shooter would ever see the chance of parole. He ultimately ruled that the prosecution met its burden of evidence and that there were enough factors to confirm that the shooter can be sentenced to life in prison.

"The court finds that the prosecution had rebutted the presumption by clear and convincing evidence that a sentence to life without parole is a disproportionate sentence," Rowe said.

In other words, according to FOX 2's Charlie Langton, the prosecution did enough to prove that the shooter is eligible for life in prison.

Under the law, minors are presumed to not be sentenced to life in prison and the prosecution has a burden to "undo that presumption". Langton said Rowe's ruling is in favor of the prosecution's argument and said that enough was proven through several days of testimony and evidence.

The hearing on Friday was part of his monthly hearings, as required by law, based on his age, to determine if an adult facility is still the safest place for him to be. Since the shooting, he's had to appear for the monthly hearing, all of which have confirmed he will remain in the adult jail.

Because the shooter is a minor, the judge must evaluate all factors before deciding if he will be eligible for parole – or if he can spend the rest of his life in prison. Rowe will not be sentencing the shooter on Friday. Instead, the date of the sentencing is Dec. 8, 2023 – which will give victims of the 2021 mass shooting the opportunity to address the defendant. 

Rowe's decision came after four days of testimony over the summer where both the state and the shooter's defense argued their cases.

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 shooting that killed four students and injured seven others. 

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. 

More coverage

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 came down to two things: the severity of the crime balanced with the age of the shooter.

What happens next?

The shooter is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 8.