John L. Staley III’s mother lowered her head and wept softly when the 17-year-old was sentenced Thursday, Feb. 8, to four years in an adult prison for plotting a mass shooting at Hilliard Davidson High School.

Law-enforcement officials intervened before Staley carried out the plan, and Franklin County Common Pleas Judge David E. Cain said it appeared that there was “very little chance” that the shooting would have occurred.

“But even a slight chance is way too much,” Cain said before imposing prison.

The sentence makes Staley eligible to apply for judicial release after serving six months in prison. He also was credited with the 349 days he has spent in the Juvenile Detention Center.

Staley, a northwest Columbus resident, entered a no-contest plea last month to one count of conspiracy to commit murder, a first-degree felony.

He was 16 when he was arrested in October 2016 after a fellow student contacted a school-resource officer to say he heard Staley discussing the plot on a school bus. A juvenile-court judge transferred the case to adult court in September 2017.

Defense attorney Stephen Palmer remained adamant after the hearing that Staley’s case should have remained in the juvenile justice system, where two psychologists determined that he could be successfully treated.

Palmer argued at the hearing that Staley should receive probation, saying that sending him to an adult prison would make him more dangerous to the public than supervising and treating him in the community.

Special assistant prosecutor Joseph Gibson called prison “the only appropriate sentence” for Staley, who created at least three diagrams to map out a shooting at the school, tried to recruit other students to help, and conducted extensive internet searches about school shootings, racist ideology and how to obtain guns and ammunition and make explosives.

“The defendant should not be rewarded for not being able to carry it out,” Gibson said.

He said Staley didn’t fully accept responsibility for his actions during a pre-sentencing interview in which he called the plan “a sick joke that got out of hand.”

Staley offered a brief, soft-spoken apology before sentencing.

“I never meant for it to go this far,” he told the judge. “Please have mercy on me, sir.”

Tonja Blackmon, a teacher at the Juvenile Detention Center, spoke on Staley’s behalf, calling him “a great child, a gifted child, a creative child ... If you believe in rehabilitation, which I believe in, then this would be a child that has been rehabilitated.”

She and other teachers at the juvenile facility provided letters of support, which Palmer said is unheard of for juveniles transferred to adult court.

Staley’s family members did not speak at the hearing and declined comment afterward.

The judge said the letters and psychologists’ reports were factors in his decision to sentence Staley “toward the minimum” of a sentencing range of three to 11 years.

jfutty@dispatch.com

@johnfutty

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A 17-year-old boy was sentenced Thursday, Feb. 8, to four years in adult prison after pleading no contest to conspiracy to commit murder for plotting a mass shooting at Hilliard Davidson High School in 2016.

John T. Staley III, of northwest Columbus, was sentenced by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge David E. Cain, who found him guilty of the charge. Cain gave him credit for the year he has already spent in custody.

Staley was 16 when he was arrested in October 2016 after a fellow student contacted a school-resource officer to say he heard Staley discussing the plot on a school bus. Staley was charged with a delinquency count of conspiracy to commit murder, but a Franklin County Juvenile Court judge transferred the case to adult court in September.

Staley began speaking with fellow students in person and through an instant-messaging app about committing a mass shooting during the 2015-16 school year and continued the plot into the 2016-2017 school year, authorities said. Two students feigned interest in assisting Staley.

By the time police were made aware of his plans, Staley had created at least three diagrams to map out the shooting and conducted extensive internet searches about school shootings and how to obtain guns and ammunition and make explosives. A search of the home he shared with his parents uncovered four gas masks and a tactical vest.

Investigators who searched Staley's computer, cellphone and school-issued iPad also found Nazi, neo-Nazi and racist information and imagery, as well as sites glorifying school shooters, prosecutors said.

In a no-contest plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but does not contest the charges. It can protect a defendant against a plea being used against him in a civil trial and allows a defendant to retain some appeal rights.

jfutty@dispatch.com

@johnfutty