1998 Arkansas School Shooter Pleads Guilty to Theft Charges

One of two young men who killed four students and a teacher at a middle school a decade ago faces up to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to theft and marijuana possession.

Mitchell Johnson, now 24, entered his plea Tuesday before a Benton County circuit judge. Sentencing was set for Nov. 14.

He was accused of taking a debit card left by a disabled man at the gas station where he worked. Police said that when Johnson was arrested Feb. 2, he was in possession of marijuana.

In March 1998, Johnson, then 13, and classmate Andrew Golden, 11, stole guns from Golden's grandfather and opened fire at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro. It was one of a series of school shootings that shocked the nation in the late 1990s.

They waited in camouflage atop a hill after Golden triggered a fake fire alarm, then opened fire on classmates and teachers leaving the school.

The dead were Natalie Brooks, 11; Paige Herring, 12; Stephanie Johnson, 12; Britthney Varner, 11; and English teacher Shannon Wright, who died while shielding another student from bullets. They wounded 10 others.

Johnson was detained until his 21st birthday. Golden turned 21 last year and was presumably also released from federal custody, although authorities did not confirm that, citing privacy laws.

Johnson's attorney, Scott McElveen, said it would have been difficult to seat an impartial jury, even though Johnson's juvenile record couldn't be brought up in court. Pleading guilty rather than accepting a proposed deal with prosecutors will give Johnson an opportunity to argue for a lighter sentence that prosecutors had offered, McElveen said.

In addition to Tuesday's guilty plea, Johnson has already been sentenced to four years in prison for possession of guns and drugs, related to a New Year's Day traffic stop in 2007. He was convicted of those charges only days before he was arrested in the debit card theft.