New witness in school-shooter trial says Bartley provoked to fire

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Defense wants hospital-bed confession thrown out

By Beth Braden

JACKSBORO—Kenneth Bartley’s school-shooting defense attorney Greg Isaacs says a new witness shows Bartley was provoked into shooting Ken Bruce, Gary Seale and Jim Pierce on Nov. 8, 2005.

In an affidavit filed in Campbell County Criminal Court on Aug. 12, special education teacher Marjorie P. DeLapp says former principal Gary Seale told her that Bartley had a small gun on the day of the shooting.

“Mr. Seale said the gun was so small, and he started telling Kenny [Bartley] that it wasn’t a real gun — that it was just a toy. Mr. Seale also said that he told Kenny he didn’t even have real bullets for the gun. Kenny told him that he did,” the affidavit said. 

Bartley then removed the bullets from his pocket and allegedly Seale told Bartley “he probably didn’t even know how to load the gun” and then said, “Let’s see.”

“Mr. Seal said that he, Mr. Pierce and Mr. Bruce watched Kenny [Bartley] put the bullets into the gun. After Kenny [Bartley] loaded the gun, Mr. Seale told me he started telling Kenny that he didn’t know how to shoot a gun. Finally, Mr. Seale told me [DeLapp], ‘I guess he [Bartley] showed me [Seale]. He knew how to shoot a gun,’” the affidavit said. 

Delapp taught at Campbell County High School from August 2005 to January 2007. It is unclear if she was interviewed during the initial investigation into the shooting.  Isaacs also filed two other motions in the case — a motion to suppress a statement and a motion for a new preliminary hearing.

The statement in question is the confession by Bartley while he was in his hospital bed at the then St. Mary’s Medical Center of LaFollette. Bartley accidentally shot his left hand during the incident and needed medical treatment. While at the hospital, Campbell County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Don Farmer interviewed Bartley about the incident. While Farmer explained Bartley’s rights to an attorney while being questioned, Isaacs maintains Bartley was unable to make a “knowing, intelligent and voluntary” decision to waive his rights because he was intoxicated.

Bartley reportedly admitted to taking two Valium pills and snorting another just hours before the shooting, court documents indicated. 

Other barriers to making an informed decision include Bartley’s age, past mental and behavioral diagnoses and the absence of his parents during questioning, Isaacs wrote in court documents. 

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals determined Bartley’s 2007 guilty plea wasn’t “knowing, intelligent and voluntary,” either. If the guilty plea wasn’t “knowing, intelligent and voluntary,” then the hospital statement less than an hour after the shooting wasn’t either, the motion said. 

Isaacs has also requested a preliminary hearing before the case goes to trial in February. During a preliminary hearing, a judge typically decides if a crime has been committed and then binds the case to the grand jury for indictment. It was unclear if Bartley’s case would take the same route – or if a new indictment means his first-degree murder charges could be dropped to something lighter, such as second degree murder or manslaughter. 

Isaacs did not immediately return calls for comment. 

The trial is slated to begin on Feb. 24, 2014 at the courthouse in Jacksboro with a jury from an outside county. Presiding Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has not announced where the jury will come from.