Pearl school shooting suspect gets life for stabbing mom

Luke Woodham: 'This is God's will'

CNN/June 5, 1998

Philadelphia, Mississippi -- The teen accused of shooting fellow students at Pearl High School last October was found guilty Friday of a separate brutal crime, the stabbing death of his mother.

"I'm going to heaven now," said Luke Woodham, 17, as he was being led from the courthouse in handcuffs after receiving a life sentence. "This is God's will."

As he was getting into a police car, he turned to a crowd of reporters and said, "God bless you all."

After less than four hours of deliberation, a jury in Philadelphia found Woodham, 17, guilty of murder in the death of his mother. He will not be eligible for parole until he's at least 65.

Woodham, who broke down in tears earlier in the day during closing arguments, showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Asked by the judge if he had anything to say, he replied simply, "No, sir," and was led away from the packed courtroom.

Circuit Judge Samac Richardson had given jurors the option of finding that Woodham wasn't responsible for his actions because he was mentally ill, as the defense had argued. But the judge refused to give them the option of considering a manslaughter conviction instead of a murder charge.

As the jury left the courtroom, one of the female jurors was in tears.

Trial for school shootings next week

District Attorney John Kitchens expressed satisfaction that jurors rejected the mental illness defense.

"I commend them for seeing through this jail house defense that was concocted by Luke Woodham in this case," he said.

Prosecutors say Mary Woodham, 50, was beaten with a baseball bat and stabbed to death October 1. After the slaying, Luke Woodham allegedly went to Pearl High School, pulled a weapon from under his trench coat and unleashed a hail of gunfire that killed two classmates and injured seven others.

Woodham will go on trial next week in Hattiesburg on murder and aggravated assault charges stemming from the school shooting spree -- the first of a string of deadly shootings that have plagued U.S. schools throughout the past school year.

Defense attorney Leslie Roussell said he was "not pleased" with Friday's verdict and said it was too early to tell how the conviction would affect defense strategy in next week's trial.

"I have to go back and sit down and go over the evidence and apply what I learned here," Roussell said.

Prosecutor: 'Murder on this boy's mind'

In his closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Tim Jones described Woodham as "mean" and "hateful."

"He's bloodthirsty," Jones said. "He wanted to kill her. Murder was on this boy's mind."

Woodham broke down in tears as Jones repeatedly described his mother's slaying as a deliberate, planned act. He also cried on the witness stand Thursday, when he testified he did not recall killing his mother.

The defense had claimed that Woodham wasn't responsible for his actions because he is mentally ill and was under the control of his friend, Grant Boyette, 19.

Woodham told the court he woke up that day taunted by demons and recalled taking a knife to his mother's room, all the while hearing an older teen-ager's voice in his head. But Woodham said he doesn't remember killing his mother.

"I just closed my eyes and fought with myself because I didn't want to do any of it," he said. "When I opened my eyes, my mother was lying in her bed dead."

Defense tries to tie killing to cult leader

Police say Boyette led a cult-like group, "The Kroth," that included Woodham. Several members of the group, including Boyette, face conspiracy charges in the school shootings.

The defense also intimated during the trial that physical evidence in Mary Woodham's murder pointed toward the possibility that another person, presumably Boyette, might have been involved.

A defense medical expert testified Woodham suffered from a variety of psychological problems. But two prosecution experts testified that Woodham was sane at the time of the killings.

In his closing arguments, defense attorney Eric Tiebauer said that because of Woodham's mental state, even after a week of testimony, no one knows what actually occurred in the Woodham home that morning.

"If we were dealing with a defendant that can talk to us like we talk to you, maybe we'd know better everything that happened," he said.

Correspondent Brian Cabell and the contributed to this report.

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