Expert finds Missouri boy unfit for defense in school shooting case

JOPLIN, Mo. | A state psychologist has found that a boy accused of firing a rifle inside a Joplin middle school is permanently unfit to help in his own defense, prompting prosecutors to seek a second expert opinion.

Circuit Judge David Mouton granted prosecutors' request at a hearing Friday in Joplin in the case of Thomas H. White, who was 13 when he allegedly pointed a rifle in the direction of students and teachers, fired a round into a hallway ceiling and tried repeatedly to shoot the principal at Joplin's Memorial Middle School.

Police say the gun jammed because of an improperly seated ammunition clip. No one was injured in the October 2006 shooting. The weapon belonged to the boy's father.

White, now 16, faces two counts of first-degree assault and single counts of armed criminal action, discharging a firearm in a school building and attempted escape.

Mouton had ordered the Missouri Department of Mental Health to evaluate White after the judge found in August that the boy was not competent to stand trial as an adult.

The report that Dr. Patricia Carter filed with the court on Feb. 25 is closed, but motions filed by attorneys in the case indicate that she found White mentally incompetent to assist in his defense and likely to remain so "for the foreseeable future."

State law allows either side to seek a second opinion.

"In a case such as this, I think you need to be absolutely sure," prosecutor Dean Dankelson said after Friday's hearing. "In the medical community, people often seek a second opinion and I think it's appropriate that we do so in this case."

The judge granted a defense request that the second evaluation be conducted by a doctor who is not with the Department of Mental Health.

Mouton said the second expert will have 30 days to evaluate White and submit a report to the court, unless good reason is given for why more time is needed.

Meanwhile, White is to continue to receive treatment at Hawthorn Children's Psychiatric Hospital in St. Louis.

If the court were to find he is not competent to assist in his defense, the state attorney general's office could initiate guardianship proceedings. The proceedings would consider an array of placement options for the child.