The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Joplin Metro

June 26, 2009

Joplin teen pleads guilty

By Derek Spellman

A Joplin teen who fired an assault rifle in Memorial Middle School and then aimed it at an administrator more than two years ago pleaded guilty to a pair of assault charges Friday.

Thomas White will be considered for the state’s dual jurisdiction program as part of a pending plea agreement with the Jasper County prosecutor. Also under the pending agreement, the 16-year-old White pleaded guilty to a companion charge of armed-criminal action, while two remaining felony charges would be dismissed.

Circuit Judge David Mouton on Friday said he would defer a final decision on the plea agreement until White’s sentencing hearing. White had previously been certified to stand trial as an adult.

White was charged with five felony counts after discharging an assault rifle inside Memorial Middle School on Oct. 9, 2006.

White, who was 13 at the time of the incident, is accused of firing the rifle once into the ceiling of a school hallway, pointing the weapon at an assistant superintendent and the school principal, and attempting to shoot the latter.

Police say the gun jammed after the firing of a single round into the ceiling because of an improperly seated ammunition clip. The school principal later ushered him out of the building.

White was to undergo a competency hearing Friday to explore whether he was mentally competent to assist in his own defense. A state psychiatrist evaluated White earlier this year and found him mentally incompetent to do so, prompting the Jasper County prosecutor to seek a second opinion.

But White, via his new defense attorney, Steven Hays, on Friday agreed that he had the capacity to understand the proceedings against him and assist in his own defense. He entered his guilty pleas shortly afterward while his mother, Norma White, looked on in the courtroom.

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