Lawyer: Plea deal likely in school shooting case

Posted at 9:34 PM, Apr 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-06 07:23:47-04

HAMILTON, Ohio -- The case of a 15-year-old boy charged with shooting students in a Madison Township school cafeteria was delayed Tuesday after late-arising issues prevented a plea agreement from being reached.

Butler County Juvenile Court Judge Ronald Craft told a packed courtroom that included family members of both the suspect, James Austin Hancock, and shooting victims that he has scheduled a new pretrial hearing for April 28.

Hancock was brought in with his ankles shackled, but was soon on his way back to juvenile detention, where he has been since his arrest soon after the Feb. 29 shootings that wounded two students and injured two others at Madison Local Schools near Middletown.

None of the four teens' injuries were life-threatening. School officials previously said they were doing well.

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Last month, a grand jury indicted Hancock on four counts of attempted murder, four counts of felonious assault and inducing panic as a serious juvenile offender. The special classification means that, if convicted, Hancock could serve out a sentence in adult prison, rather than juvenile, after he turns 21. 

He entered a not-guilty plea March 25.

Defense attorney Charles Rittgers said afterward that some issues had come up before Tuesday's hearing that needed to be worked out.

"We don't believe the matter is going to go to a trial," Rittgers said. "We think it's going to end up in a plea."

He wouldn't say what the issues were. Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said there's "no plea bargain" in place and declined to elaborate.

Rittgers said Hancock's family has repeatedly expressed concern for the injured students. Authorities have said they are all recovering.

He said Hancock's family members also were "in shock" after the shooting because Hancock had no history of violence or causing trouble.

"This came out of the blue," Rittgers said.

Authorities have said he took a relative's loaded gun to school and opened fire in a cafeteria. They haven't stated a motive.

Gmoser said the grand jury had the option of indicting Hancock as an adult but chose to charge him under the juvenile classification.