Boy Agrees to 45 Years in School Killing
Tuesday, April 10, 2007; 6:11 PM
JACKSBORO, Tenn. -- A 15-year-old boy pleaded guilty Tuesday in the killing of a high school official and the wounding of two others under a plea deal announced after jury selection for his trial had started.
The judge sentenced Kenneth Bartley Jr. to 45 years in prison for the single count of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder in the 2005 shootings at Campbell County Comprehensive High School.
Before the plea, Bartley met privately to apologize to the victims, Assistant Principal Jim Pierce and Principal Gary Seale.
"He said he wished he hadn't done it and that he wished he could take it back," said Pierce. "We will never be the same, but we told him that we forgave him."
The teenager could have faced a life sentence if convicted on the original charges. He will be held in a juvenile facility until he is 19, then move to adult prison. Bartley could be eligible for parole in 25 to 29 years.
His plea deal was announced after special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood consulted with defense and prosecution attorneys, the two surviving administrators and the widow of the man who died.
The three school officials had confronted Bartley on Nov. 8, 2005, after hearing that he had a gun in the school. Bartley was in the principal's office when he fatally shot Assistant Principal Ken Bruce, 48, and wounded Seale and Pierce.
The defense conceded during the questioning of potential jurors that Bartley, then 14, shot all three men.
The boy had been in and out of trouble while in middle school and had spent about a year and a half in a residential juvenile treatment program.
Deputy Sheriff Darrell Mongar testified during a February hearing that Bartley told him the pistol was his father's and he planned to trade it for OxyContin, a powerful painkiller.
Pierce testified at that hearing that he told Bartley he wanted the gun the boy had in his pocket.
"Kenny stood up with the gun waving it at all of us," Pierce said. "Mr. Seale asked him if it was real. He said 'Yes, it's real. I'll show you. I never liked you anyway.'"
Pierce said Bartley pulled out an ammunition clip, loaded the gun and fired. Seale was shot first, in the lower abdomen. Bruce was shot in the chest. Pierce was hit in the chest as he struggled to disarm the youth, he testified.
Bartley had been indicted on charges of first-degree murder and felony murder, both of which could have carried a life sentence _ meaning a minimum of 51 years in prison. He also was charged with attempted murder, taking a gun to school grounds and possession of controlled substances, which could have added to his sentence if he were convicted. Jury selection was wrapping up when the agreement was reached.
Jo Bruce, the widow of the slain administrator, endorsed the plea bargain.
"We did the right thing. We feel like this will help our community start to heal. I think (my husband) Ken would say, 'Job well done,'" Bruce said.