PULASKI, Tenn., Jan. 9 -- A 17-year-old youth charged with murder in the November shooting deaths of a Tennessee high school teacher and student should be tried separately from the alleged gunman, his lawyers proposed Tuesday. Attorneys Larry Roberts and Hershel Koger said they would file a motion for a separate trial on behalf of Stephen Abbott, 17, 'within the next few days.' Abbott is said to have helped his friend and alleged gunman Jamie Rouse, also 17, plan the shooting spree and rode with Rouse to Richland High School in Lynnville, Tenn., Nov. 15 where teacher Carolyn Foster and student Diane Collins were killed and another teacher, Carol Yancey, was wounded in a hail of gunfire. Rouse reportedly confessed to police he wanted to 'kill teachers,' apparently because he was being given failing grades in four classes. Witnesses claimed Rouse walked the halls of the school 'with a blank look on his face,' stopping to fire at teachers from time to time. Collins reportedly was not a target but was killed when hit by a bullet intended for a high school football coach who was standing nearby. Abbott was also charged with murder because he did nothing to stop the slayings, said Giles County Assistant District Attorney Richard Dunavant. A judge ruled Monday the two juveniles would be tried as adults, meaning they could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. Tennesssee has a death penalty, but under state law offenders under the age of 18 cannot be put to death even if they are convicted of first-degree murder.
Roberts and Koger questioned the decision by which Giles County Judge Robert E. Lee transferred the case from juvenile court to circuit court, in effect treating the teens as adults. 'Stephen Abbott is the victim of public outcry and they're looking for someone to vent their anger on,' Roberts said. 'Unfortunately, it happens to be Stephen at this time.' Koger added their client just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and should not be held liable for the deaths. 'What happened happened because of what Jamie thought and what Jamie did,' he said. 'As far as I'm concerned, there's no way on God's green earth they're going to be able to get a conviction to stick with the evidence they've got.' Lee hinted he had some initial concerns about binding Abbott over to trial as an adult, but in the end felt it best to leave the question of guilt or innocence up to a jury. Lee issued his ruling less than 90 minutes after he concluded a hearing on the issue. The case next is slated to be presented to a grand jury, which will consider evidence for indictments against Rouse and Abbott. Dunavant said he would press for the panel to meet on that question next week. Pending further review, Lee ordered the two youths returned to the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., despite his ruling they were to be tried as adults. But authorities, who want to keep the teens in individual cells segregated from the general prison population, said adult prisons do not have enough separate holding cells to satisfy their needs.