COLUMBUS, Ohio – A mentally ill man pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and 10 other charges Tuesday in a series of Ohio highway shootings and was sentenced to 27 years in prison.
Charles McCoy Jr. (search), 29, had admitted firing the shots over five months in 2003 and 2004 but pleaded innocent by reason of insanity to murder and 23 other counts. His death penalty trial ended in a mistrial.
McCoy cried as he began to read a statement apologizing to victims, and his attorney took over. He also cried as victims told the judge how they had been affected by the shootings.
"I want to thank my family for their love and support, especially my mom," the statement read. "I'm sorry for not taking my medication and putting you and everyone through this."
McCoy, of Columbus, told psychiatrists that he threw wood and bags of concrete mix off highway overpasses and shot at cars to quiet voices in his head that called him a "wimp."
Psychiatrists for both sides agreed that McCoy had severe delusions that television programs and commercials were speaking directly to him and mocking him. Toward the end of the shootings, he believed firing from overpasses would make news coverage of Michael Jackson (search) stop.
The only person hit by a bullet, Gail Knisley (search), 62, was killed Nov. 25, 2003, while a friend was driving her to a doctor's appointment.
Her death alerted authorities to earlier linked shootings. As buildings and more vehicles were struck, some frightened commuters changed their routes to avoid the area of Interstate 270 where Knisley died. About 77,000 vehicles daily travel the outerbelt encircling Columbus.
Knisley's son, Brent, told McCoy during the sentencing phase of the hearing: "We hate what you did to my mother and to all of us.
"I could stand here for hours listing all the things you did to my father, my wife, my brother, all of her friends and especially my two children, but you couldn't possibly understand because you didn't know her."
McCoy's first trial, which ended in May with the jury unable to decide whether he was insane, centered on whether McCoy's delusions kept him from understanding that the shootings were wrong. Prosecutors then decided not to pursue a death sentence.
The prosecution's psychiatrist said McCoy still showed he knew his actions were wrong by the steps he took to avoid capture, such as moving the shootings to other counties when publicity focused on I-270.
When McCoy's father called him to say police wanted to test his guns, McCoy gave permission, then drove 36 hours straight to Las Vegas. However, he didn't change his license plates — while the number was being broadcast nationwide — and registered under his own name at a motel. He was captured there after a few days, on March 17, 2004.