Teen Convicted in Miss. Shootings

Associated Press/June 13, 1998

Hattiesburg, Miss. -- From across the courtroom, Nita Lilly glared at the 17-year-old boy who killed her granddaughter and another classmate in the first of several deadly school shootings across the country.

"I don't hate you, but I'm terribly disappointed," she said, looking at Luke Woodham. "You initiated a chain of events across these United States that's wreaked havoc on our children."

She called Woodham, her granddaughter's former boyfriend, a "genetic waste."

Jurors deliberated for five hours Friday night before convicting Woodham of killing Lilly's granddaughter, 16-year-old Christina Menefee, and 17-year-old Lydia Dew on Oct. 1 at Pearl High School. Seven others were wounded.

Circuit Judge Samac Richardson, describing the crimes as cowardly, handed Woodham the maximum sentences allowed -- two life terms in prison for the slayings and 20 years for each of seven aggravated assault charges.

Woodham was sentenced to life in prison last week for fatally stabbing his mother, Mary Woodham, 50, before his school rampage.

The terms will be served consecutively.

"It feels great knowing he's going behind bars and won't ever see the light of day again," said Alan Westbrook, who was shot in the back during the rampage and testified in the trial.

A statement was read in court on behalf of Lee Ann Brown, Dew's sister and Woodham's prom date: "We walked with an angel and her name was Lydia Dew, and you killed her."

Woodham, whose attorneys had argued that he was insane, called his crime "sick and evil. If they could have given the death penalty in this case, I deserve it."

"I am sorry for the people I killed and the people I hurt," he told the courtroom after his sentence was announced. "The reason you don't see any more tears is I have been forgiven by God."

Defense lawyers said they will appeal all convictions.

The slayings stunned Pearl, a working-class town of 20,000 just east of the state capital of Jackson. Several other teens are charged with conspiracy in the school shootings, some of them linked to a shadowy cultlike group called "The Kroth."

Since October, there have been school-related attacks across the nation, from West Paducah, Ky., to Springfield, Ore.

Woodham testified that the murders were the result of heartbreak over losing Menefee and a fascination with occult rituals.

"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry," Woodham sobbed as he tried to explain why he opened fire with a hunting rifle, aiming at an area popular with students.

Woodham told jurors that, after the breakup, he fell under the influence of Grant Boyette, 19, a friend he described as both a mentor and a tormentor who introduced him to the occult.

"He told me I had to kill my mom," Woodham said. "He told me I had to get the gun and the car and go to school and get my revenge on Christy and cause a reign of terror."

Woodham said he did not want to kill, but Boyette had told him he would be "spineless and gutless" if he failed to act. Boyette is one of those facing conspiracy charges.

Woodham testified against the advice of his defense team. One of his attorneys, Leslie Rousell, said he still believed there was reasonable doubt as to Woodham's sanity.

"I knew it (the defense) would be tough," he said. "I'm disappointed."

District Attorney John Kitchens said the jury had seen past the defense's "smoke screen" and done the right thing.

"Age is no excuse for murder in this country," Kitchens said.

Richardson also ordered Woodham to pay extensive fines and restitution so he won't "profit directly or indirectly from your crime" through book deals or selling the rights to his story.

"There is no sentence this court can impose that can erase the pain and suffering experienced by (the victims') families," the judge told Woodham.

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