Plea deal talks continue for boy charged in school shooting

HAMILTON, Ohio (AP) — The case of a 15-year-old boy charged with shooting students in an Ohio school cafeteria was delayed Tuesday after late-arising issues prevented a plea agreement from being reached.

Butler County Juvenile Court Judge Ronald Craft told a packed courtroom that included family members of both the suspect and shooting victims that he has scheduled a new pretrial hearing for April 28. The suspect, James Austin Hancock, was brought in with his ankles shackled, but was soon on his way back to juvenile detention, where he has been since his arrest soon after the Feb. 29 shootings that wounded two students and injured two others at Madison Local Schools near Middletown.

Defense attorney Charles Rittgers said afterward that some issues had come up before Tuesday’s hearing that needed to be worked out.

“We don’t believe the matter is going to go to a trial,” Rittgers said. “We think it’s going to end up in a plea.”

He wouldn’t say what the issues were. Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said there’s “no plea bargain” in place and declined to elaborate.

The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify juveniles charged with crimes, but Hancock’s name has been widely reported.

Rittgers said Hancock’s family has repeatedly expressed concern for the injured students. Authorities have said they are all recovering.

He said Hancock’s family members also were “in shock” after the shooting because Hancock had no history of violence or causing trouble.

“This came out of the blue,” Rittgers said.

Authorities have said he took a relative’s loaded gun to school and opened fire in a cafeteria. They haven’t stated a motive.

Hancock was indicted last month as a juvenile under a serious youthful offender classification on charges of attempted murder, felonious assault and inducing panic. His attorney entered not-guilty pleas for him.

Gmoser said the grand jury had the option of indicting Hancock as an adult but chose to charge him under the juvenile classification. If convicted of attempted murder, he could be sentenced to the Ohio Department of Youth Services until his 21st birthday, with the possibility of additional time in an adult prison if he committed any violations while in juvenile custody.


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