Thu, May 23

Student convicted for threats, bringing weapons to school

A 13-year-old student from Excel Education Centers in Cottonwood has been convicted of bringing a gun and knives to school earlier this year.

Michael Doyle, Cornville, was found guilty of weapons misconduct on charges he concealed a gun in his backpack and in a holster beneath a heavy jacket, and that he hid knives in his socks and took them all to school, boasting to classmates he would shoot up the school and get rid of his teacher.

Testimony from classmates at his April 19 trial revealed Doyle was even bold enough to flaunt the firearm to other students in the classroom, just a few feet away from his teacher.

Additionally, Doyle was found guilty for threatening the teacher, Diane Vogt, who was fired from the school shortly after reporting the incident to school administrators and law enforcement. He also was convicted of violating probation and for having weapons on school grounds. All of the charges are felonies, except for threatening, which is a misdemeanor.

“I was proud of the students. They deserve a medal for bravery for coming forth and following through with what they did by testifying,” said Vogt afterward. “I am forever grateful for them coming forth. I truly believe if they didn’t Mike would have made good on his threats.”

Doyle is scheduled for sentencing May 16. Deputy County Attorney Frank Lynch said depending upon the probation officer’s recommendations, it appears the state will be seeking a term of incarceration.

Juvenile probation officer Ingrid Lashley testified that Doyle was on intensive probation at the time of the offenses and was very well aware of the consequences for violating it. Doyle had been placed on IP in July 1999 for burglary and theft. He was convicted and placed on probation twice before stemming from several incidents including burglary, where he was found in possession of a firearm, shoplifting, theft and carrying a concealed weapon. As a result of his prior weapons convictions, Doyle was a prohibited possessor.

Lashley characterized his previous punishment as lenient. “He really didn’t have too many consequences,” she told Lynch at the trial.

She said she responded to a call from Vogt in January about Doyle bringing the weapons to school and threatening to get rid of her. Lashley said she interviewed several students and learned from one where the firearm might be located.

Lashley said she and a Yavapai County Sheriff’s deputy located the gun underneath a bush, exactly where the youngster said it would be. Lynch produced for evidence a 22-caliber semi-automatic that she confirmed was the one found outside Doyle’s trailer park.

“I’d be afraid to touch it,” said one mother who observed the proceedings.

Under cross-examination, Lashley said the YCSO did not fingerprint the firearm. “I don’t believe they do that very often in this area,” she said, adding police ran a check on the gun. “It did not come up as stolen that day.” The knives have not been recovered.

Vogt testified that on Jan. 10, students came to her, reporting that Doyle was carrying weapons and making threats against her.

“He had threatened to come to my house and get me ... and he’d do anything it took to get rid of me,” she said, noting she once overheard Doyle’s threats. When she confronted him, Vogt testified he claimed only to have wished to get rid of her. She continued that Doyle became angry after she contacted his probation officer, returning to class and throwing things, warning her never to speak to Lashley or his mother again.

James Manning, 13, testified Doyle pulled him aside behind a school building one day and showed him the weapons. “The gun was on his waist and the knife was in his sock.”

Manning said at first he thought the firearm was all black because it was in a holster, but was certain it was the gun recovered by Lashley, which was dark brown on the handle. Asked how he knew it was real, Manning said, “I’ve seen a lot of guns in my life and it looked like a real one to me.” He said the knife was “pretty big.”

Vanessa O’Rourke, 13, said Doyle was boasting about the gun one day in class, pulling it out of his backpack by the handle just enough to see the barrel. “Then he put it back really quick,” she said.

O’Rourke said Doyle “was saying he wanted to shoot Miss Vogt” and he bragged about having a school shooting. She identified some of the other kids who took the stand as being witnesses that day.

Asked why she didn’t immediately report what she saw and heard, O’Rourke replied, “If a kid brings a gun to school, I think you’d be a little scared to say something.”

But another boy, 13-year-old McAllen Carter, testified that the gun he saw at school was not the same gun found by Lashley. He admitted he hid that gun in the bushes at Doyle’s request. Carter said he and Doyle “were” friends and that he first saw the gun it was while spending the night at Doyle’s home before his arrest.

Carter said the gun “ was on the water heater in the kitchen. He reached up and got it.” He continued that the gun was in pieces and Doyle demonstrated how to put it together.

“No one was home at the time,” said Carter, adding Doyle said he had to get rid of it or he’d get in trouble from his probation officer. Carter said he then agreed to hide the weapon in the bushes where it was retrieved.

He told defense attorney Warren Darrow, however, that it was not the gun he and others saw at school that day.

“I saw a BB gun in the shape of a 9 mm pistol and I saw knives, one in his backpack and one stuffed in his sock” said Carter.

Darrow, who characterized a BB gun as not lethal, argued there was conflicting testimony about the firearms and the information about the knives was circumstantial since they were never found. Without evidence that the knives were lethal, Darrow asked Superior Court Judge Richard Anderson to dismiss the case, which the judge denied.

In closing arguments, Lynch said the evidence and witnesses had shown that Doyle was guilty as charged.

Darrow concluded the entire case was blown out of proportion by “hysteria,” the story paraded about in the newspaper. He said there was not enough evidence to prove Doyle had taken lethal weapons to school and therefore his client was not guilty.

But Anderson ruled the state had met its burden of proof. He ordered Doyle to remain in custody pending sentencing.

Vogt reacted to Darrow’s remarks about “hysteria” surrounding the case: “I really hope this whole situation raises concerns of teachers and the community not to take these situations so lightly.”

Acknowledging it is little more than a formality at this point, Excel Education Centers President Michael Gerdes said the school board will conduct having an expulsion hearing at its upcoming meeting next week.

“We were waiting to see what happened in court,” he said. “Because of the statutes, it’s mandatory expulsion.”