JACKSBORO, Tenn. - A former Campbell County High School student who was accused of killing an assistant principal and wounding two other school officials was acquitted of first-degree murder Friday.
The Knoxville News Sentinel is reporting that jurors instead convicted Kenneth Bartley Jr. of reckless homicide for the November 2005 shooting of Vice Principal Ken Bruce. The jury also acquitted Bartley of two counts of the attempted murders of assistant principals Gary Seale and Jim Pierce.
Bartley was 14 years old when he shot and killed Bruce during a confrontation in the principal's office. Bartley, now 22, has already served more than eight years in prison while awaiting trial. On Friday, his attorney said he could be free within a matter of hours.
Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood set bond for Bartley at $7,500.
The verdict was a blow to the victim's widow, Jo Bruce.
"We believed in the justice system, and it failed us today," Bruce said after the verdicts were read.
Bartley's defense attorney thanked the jury. He said Bartley cried after the verdicts were read and said, "I can't believe I get to go home to my mom and dad."
Conflicting portraits of Bartley were shown to jurors during the trial this week in Jacksboro. Prosecutors had argued that Bartley was a cold, calculating drug dealer who deliberately opened fire inside a principal's office when he got caught bringing a gun to school. The defense, however, told jurors that Bartley panicked in a flight-or-fight response and fired quickly and randomly.
Bartley took the stand in his own defense this week and told a jury that he felt horrible after the shooting. He told jurors that he only brought the gun to school that day so he could trade it for drugs. He said he panicked and started shooting when school officials confronted him about the weapon.
The reason it took so long for Bartley to be tried is because he pleaded guilty in 2007 in exchange for a 45-year sentence. But the guilty plea was thrown out because Bartley was a minor when he made the deal with prosecutors, and his parents never consented to the agreement.