State argues West Liberty-Salem school shooter received fair sentence

The West Liberty-Salem school shooter had a fair sentencing hearing and deserved the maximum sentence imposed against him.

That’s the word from Champaign County prosecutors who responded to an appeal filed by Ely Serna’s attorney. The appeal asks the court to consider giving Serna a new hearing with the hope that he won’t be sentenced to 23 ½ years again.

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But the case against Serna is serious, the state said in its response, and the court should uphold its sentence.

“With regard to more serious factors, the trial court found that the victims closest to the shooting incident includes 398 middle school and high school-aged children, 168 of whom felt compelled to break and exit through classroom windows to nearby parking lots, ball fields, and muddy farm fields to escape harm’s way,” the response says. “In a separately attached wing of the school, elementary-aged children were hiding in classrooms behind barricaded doors arming themselves with staplers, scissors, and sharpened pencils while shielding their vital organs with heavy books..”

Ely Serna’s attorneys pointed to two issues with his sentencing hearing as to why Champaign County Common Pleas Court Judge Nicholas Selvaggio should consider a redo. The first was the judge’s use of the internet to discover information about the drug Vyvanse and the second was that the court sentenced Serna without properly considering Serna’s age when the shooting happened.

Serna was a 17-year-old senior at the time of the shooting and his attorney’s think that should have been weighed heavier before sentencing him to the maximum.

The state disagrees.

“The record in this case shows that the trial court fully complied with all the requirements pertaining to consideration for the statutory sentencing factors,” the response says. “The trial court specifically stated that it had considered the principles and purposes of sentencing, had made additional felony findings as Appellant was being sentenced for the first and second degree felonies, had balanced the seriousness and recidivism factors, enumerated the documents reviewed by it and then sentenced appellant to a term of imprisonment as allowed by law, albeit a maximum sentence.”

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The response says “appellant now claims that the trial court imposed a maximum sentence consecutive sentence based on its own internet research and therefore, the sentence is contrary to law. The state believes that argument lacks merit.”

The state said the court made clear it did consult to have a better understanding of the drug, and that it had done similar things in a case that involved fentanyl.

“Upon review of the lengthy record, it does not appear that the trial court acted inappropriately by taking judicial notice of and raising the possible side effects of the drug Vyvanse used by appellant in questioning the expert regarding those side effects of the drug.”

The state also argued that age is not a mandatory factor in the case but also argues that court actually did consider age before sentencing Serna.

“However, here, the trial court clearly contemplated appellant’s age in its consideration of statutory factors, specifically in its consideration of appellant being less likely to recidivate,” the response says. “First, the trial court noted that the appellant was not neurologically developed, which was acknowledged by appellant in this brief.”

The state also said the court talked about Serna being in high school and the actions he took part in while attending West Liberty-Salem.

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Also, the state said that many West Liberty-Salem students continue to feel ramifications from that day.

“School counselors continue to be inundated with students who are visiting the guidance office due to stress, anxiety, depression, panic attacks and symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some children have been seen by mental health hospital professionals due to suicidal thoughts and the fear and anger they may never feel safe again.”

The response also says some students felt so unsafe at school, they have withdrawn from attending school.

23 1/2: number of years Ely Serna was sentenced for the West Liberty-Salem High School shooting.

398: Number of middle school and high school students in the area during the school shooting.

168: Number of students who jumped out of windows to escape the school shooting.

Springfield News-Sun

The Springfield News-Sun was on scene moments after the West Liberty-Salem school shooting on Jan. 20, 2016. The newspaper broke the news online and has been the go-to source for information about regarding its impact on students, community and court information.

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