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Ohio teen's lawyers begin plea talks in fatal school shooting

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An attorney for the Ohio teen charged in the shooting deaths of three high school students in the town of Chardon said on Saturday he is negotiating with prosecutors to settle the case as the first anniversary of the attack approaches.

It was not immediately clear if accused shooter T.J. Lane would plead guilty to the aggravated murder of three students in the February 27, 2012, attack in the Chardon High School cafeteria, where three others were wounded.

"We're in the process of plea negotiations," said Lane's attorney, Ian Friedman, adding that his client will first undergo a court-ordered competency evaluation.

"Assuming it is completed timely and finds T.J. competent, a plea may be entered as soon as February 26, which is our next court date," Friedman added.

Lane, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, is being tried as an adult, and has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

He is scheduled to go on trial later this year for three counts of aggravated murder in the deaths of Demetrius Hewlin, 16; Russell King Jr., 17; and Daniel Parmertor, 16. He is charged with the attempted murder of Nick Walczak, 18, who was paralyzed from the waist down, and felony assault for wounds to two other students.

Prosecutors said Lane brought a .22-caliber pistol to school and fired 10 rounds randomly at students in the cafeteria.

If a plea deal is reached and announced on February 26, it would be on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the shooting rampage, which will be remembered with a candlelight vigil, a memorial walk and concert in downtown Chardon.

Earlier this week, one of the shooting victims, Nate Mueller, traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of a group urging Congress to pass measures to reduce gun violence.

President Barack Obama and some Democrats have proposed gun control legislation in the wake of the December massacre of 20 school children and six adults in Connecticut. That tragedy sparked national outrage and renewed calls for action.

Geauga County Judge David Fuhry in January granted a joint request by prosecutors and defense attorneys for more time to prepare for trial. He denied a motion by the defense for a change of venue from the small county, which includes a number of Amish residents who are exempt from jury service for religious reasons.

Lane would not be eligible for the death penalty because of his age, but he could be sentenced to life in prison.

(This story corrects second paragraph to show shooting occurred on February 27, 2012)

(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Greg McCune and Gunna Dickson)

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