A decision on whether the alleged West Liberty-Salem High School shooter is fit to stand trial has been delayed until next month.
Ely Serna, 17, appeared in Campaign County Juvenile Court on Friday morning for a competency hearing. His attorney previously requested that he be evaluated to make sure he can assist in his own defense, and understand court proceedings and the consequences involved.
Serna is accused of shooting two students and firing several other shotgun shots in a restroom and hallway of West Liberty-Salem High School on Jan. 20.
He faces numerous charges, including two counts of attempted murder; three counts of felonious assault; six counts of improperly discharging a firearm; and single counts of inducing panic and illegal conveyance of a deadly weapon in a school, according to the county prosecutor’s office.
Defense attorney Dennis Lieberman requested the continuance because a psychologist he expected to call wasn’t able to attend the hearing Friday due to a family situation. Lieberman said the psychologist was a crucial part of his case.
Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi didn’t object to the continuance request, saying only that the state was ready to go Friday morning.
Champaign County Juvenile Judge Lori Reisinger granted the request for a continuance and set May 5 as the new date for the competency hearing.
The main victim of the shooting, Logan Cole, 17, and his father Ryan Cole, attended Serna’s hearing for the first time since the shooting. West Liberty-Salem Local Schools announced a dinner and auction will take place Saturday at around 5 p.m. at the school. Athletic Director Jake Vitt said at that time, the Cole family will have a big announcement that will impact the community but didn’t provide details.
The judge also listened to arguments Friday on a motion filed by the defense asking to close the courtroom to the public during the competency hearing. The reason behind the filing, Lieberman said, was to protect Ely Serna’s private information.
“In addition to two psychologists, the parties may call teachers, detention center staff and others who may testify,” the motion says. “The proceedings will be replete with references to the child’s school and medical records, as well as mental examinations. This information is normally considered confidential in juvenile court proceedings and must be protected.”
The motion would have barred the news media from attending the competency hearing. Lieberman said in court that the shooting has been stressful on Serna and his family, and having his private information distributed on the news would cause additional agony. The lawyer also said Serna’s medical records and psychologist report aren’t public records.
Media companies, including Cox Media Group Ohio, parent company of the Springfield News-Sun and WHIO Channel 7, objected to closing the courtroom. News station WDTN filed a motion to intervene and was represented by attorney Michael Bly.
Bly said in court that the public has a right to know what’s going on in the case, and offered alternatives to completely shutting the media out of the hearing. Lieberman conceded that there may be alternatives.
Reisinger ruled that the public won’t be allowed to be in the courtroom when the psychologist who evaluated the suspect testifies. But the public will be allowed in the courtroom for the remainder of the hearing.
The Springfield News-Sun has provided the best coverage of the West Liberty-Salem High School shooting including following up on Logan Cole’s condition, safety improvements being made to the school and the Ely Serna court case.